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Category: Groove of the Week

Groove Of The Week #56: Don Blackman – ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’

Don Blackman’s debut album (1982’s Don Blackman) is one of a handful of discs that falls into the category of ‘Records I Wish I’d Discovered 10 Years Earlier’, along with…

Don Blackman’s debut album (1982’s Don Blackman) is one of a handful of discs that falls into the category of ‘Records I Wish I’d Discovered 10 Years Earlier’, along with Donny Hathaway’s Extension of a Man, Pleasure’s Future Now, and Chaka Khan’s Naughty.

Not only does Don Blackman feature forward-looking, genre-hopping compositions, a roll-call of first rate session musicians (that’s a young Dennis Chambers behind the kit) and consistently head-nodding bass playing but many of the tracks are laced with a sense of humour that seems to be sorely lacking in many artists’ work.

The majority of the bass on the record is delivered with considerable style by Queens native Barry Johnson, who has worked with a number of artists, including Lenny White’s Twennynine and Bernard Wright, but many readers will know him as the guy who stepped up to the challenge of touring with CHIC after Bernard Edwards’ death. Not a high pressure bass gig by any means…

Check out Barry’s incredible groove playing on Bernard Wright’s ‘Firebolt Hustle’:

Having waxed lyrical about Barry’s playing, it’s worth noting that he’s not actually responsible for this week’s groove – the bass line on ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ comes courtesy of Don Blackman on synth bass.

Synth bass? Sounds like an excuse to dust off some pedals and break out the fretless:

For the gear-curious among you, here’s what I used to record this episode:

  • Bass: Ibanez GWB35 – usually these come in an attractive shade of ‘none more black’, but a previous owner had it stripped so it now resembles the more expensive Willis basses. I added a Nordstrand Big Blades pickup and an Aguilar OBP-2 preamp.
  • Octave Pedal: 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre MK1 set to solo the sub signal.
  • Fuzz Pedal: Way Huge Pork Loin

Here’s how the A section groove looks written out:

The first thing to clock is the all-important time-feel instruction: swing 16ths.

Also known as ‘swung semiquavers’ (if you’re British and live in the 1950s) or ‘swunk’ (if you’re stuck in a 1980s fusion timewarp), swing 16ths is a fairly common groove scenario that all bassists should be prepared for, as it can be challenging to make anything swing on a fretted string instrument.

The key lies in how you feel the underlying subdivision.

How to swing your 16th-notes

Although swing 16th-notes are still written like this:

The swing comes from a 16th-note triplet subdivision, which looks like this:

Or, this:

The secret to playing these rhythms correctly is to always have the physical feeling of the subdivision in your body regardless of what you’re playing; I’ve heard musicians like Pat Metheny and Bob Reynolds talk about having a ‘constant, churning wheel of triplets’ inside them when they play swing 8ths, while Joe Dart talks about maintaining a ‘militant’ 16th-note subdivision when playing funk.

How do you develop this? Start slowly. Vocalise the subdivision along with a metronome, then clap it out. Next, try hearing it internally

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Groove Of The Week #55: Incognito – ‘Colibri’

If there was one album that irreversibly changed the course of my bass playing at a pivotal point in my development, then it was Incognito’s Tribes, Scribes and Vibes (1992)….

If there was one album that irreversibly changed the course of my bass playing at a pivotal point in my development, then it was Incognito’s Tribes, Scribes and Vibes (1992). My first term at music college was something of a rude awakening in that I started to realise the sheer volume of things I didn’t know but really needed to; I had arrived at college unable to read, deficient in repertoire and with ears that barely functioned. In short, I had my work cut out.

One of my tutors put me on to Incognito (among other things) in order to broaden my musical horizons and I was immediately hooked. Admittedly, some of the vocal stuff was – and still is – a bit too ‘smooth’ for my tastes, but I certainly couldn’t fault the bass playing. I dutifully set about trying to steal as much as possible from every tune on the Tribes, Scribes and Vibes album, including ‘Colibri’:

‘Colibri’ is something of a homage to the humble double chromatic approach (approaching a chord tone from two consecutive semitones above or below). In fact, the root note of almost every chord is approached in this way:

There some awkward elements to the ‘Colibri’ groove (the D to F leap in bar 2 and the final trill) which bugged me for years until I learned about how the bass was recorded – or, more accurately – programmed. I had assumed that the low end had been taken care of by the very talented Randy Hope-Taylor; I knew he was great, but I couldn’t figure out how he managed to get certain intervallic jumps to sound absolutely seamless. The answer came from a Talkbass thread that confirmed that the bulk of the basslines on the album had been played on keyboards by multi-instrumentalist Richard Bull, who was able to divulge details of how he got the bass sound:

…from memory, it comes from the Bob Clearmountain Percussion & Bass Library, (a 5 string Music Man bass) specifically, the D.I. samples but only 5 of the available set; F1, C2, F2, C3 & F3. They were sampled into an Akai S950, and at the time, I was using Steinberg’s Cubase on an Atari Falcon computer. The bass was not ‘performed’ via Midi keyboard but programmed manually by mouse. Unlike today’s bass libraries, trills weren’t available, so they had to be mimicked using Pitch bend!

So, we’re hoping to imitate a keyboard that’s trying to sound like a bass. Strange, no?

If you’re unfamiliar with Randy Hope-Taylor, who did contribute a stunning bass solo on the track ‘Magnetic Ocean’ and was the subject of a previous Groove Of The Week (GOTW #39: Talkin’ Loud), you can see and hear him below talking about preamps and explaining how he wants to ‘bust some kidneys’:

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Groove Of The Week #54: Snarky Puppy – ‘Quarter Master’

The bass groove that serves as the introduction to ‘Quarter Master’ grabbed my attention the first time I heard it way back in 2012 and it’s been on my transcription…

The bass groove that serves as the introduction to ‘Quarter Master’ grabbed my attention the first time I heard it way back in 2012 and it’s been on my transcription to-do list ever since; the uptempo, New Orleans-flavoured track serves as the final cut on the band’s groundUP album that followed up on the online buzz generated by Tell Your Friends (2010) and began to propel the group into the mainstream. Well, as mainstream as fusion can be…

We’re beginning in classic funk one-chord vamp territory, with the entire opening bassline outlining a Dm7 chord. As with almost every groove in this series, the bass part is built on a ‘question and answer’ format of two contrasting phrases. In this case, one descends and the other ascends, with variations being added on each repetition:

Before we get too bogged down in the nuts and bolts of the notes that Michael League plays, let’s deal with the most important aspect of this groove: the feel. We’re in swung 16th-note territory, which can be hard to detect given the bright tempo of 124bpm; it’s important to practise the line at a slow tempo and make sure that the feeling of the swung 16th-note subdivision is firmly embedded in your playing before bringing the speed up.

The opening phrase of the line is standard bass vocabulary, and fits neatly within the well-trodden minor pentatonic box pattern that we’re all too familiar with, while the ascending ‘answer’ phrase includes the addition of the flat 5 to give the line a blues scale flavour (notation conventions regarding enharmonics mean that I’ve written the pitch as G# rather than the ‘true’ flat 5, Ab).

The second iteration of the groove provides us with a Paul Jackson-esque lick that requires some precise fretting hand control – fitting this lick in cleanly and then returning to the main groove without rushing or dragging may take some practice.

From bar 7 onwards, we’re given a new take on the opening theme, beginning on the 11th of the chord (G) and giving us an unexpected melodic contour.

The Long And The Short Of It

One important – yet subtle – detail that’s visible in the transcription from bars 7-14 is the variation of note lengths on each repetition of the bassline. In particular, the G# is alternately played short and long – this tiny detail has been planned in advance (or so it seems) as the guitar also doubles this phrasing at points in the line.

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Groove Of The Week #53: Q-Tip – ‘WeFight/WeLove’

Raphael Saadiq might not be a household name in the bass community, but the bass has been at the heart of the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s diverse career from the very…

Raphael Saadiq might not be a household name in the bass community, but the bass has been at the heart of the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s diverse career from the very beginning. At the age of 18, Saadiq successfully auditioned to play bass in Sheila E’s backing band and subsequently spent two years touring with Prince; not a bad way to learn about all things groove-related.

In addition to his solo career, Raphael Saadiq has notched up an impressive resumé of production and co-writing credits with a host of big-name R&B and pop artists including D’Angelo, Whitney Houston, The Bee Gees, Erykah Badu and even Marcus Miller. His eight-bar bass contribution to Q-Tip’s ‘WeFight/WeLove’ is the subject of this week’s groove exploration:

Q-Tip WeFight/WeLove Bass Raphael Saadiq

This groove exemplifies our number one job description as bass players: being able to play the same thing over and over for four minutes while keeping everything – volume, note length, articulation, attack – consistent and making it feel good. Simple, right? I beg to differ.

Playing even a relatively straightforward line such as this with machine-like consistency and precision requires a great amount of concentration, attention to detail and, well… practice.

The ‘WeFight/WeLove’ groove is also a great opportunity to work on your pick playing, which is an unusual element to find in a hip hop bassline. Although it’s hard to say for certain, it sounds to me like the bass on the recording uses a plectrum; listen to the breakdown section of the track starting around 3:22 and notice the attack of the notes.

If you’re averse to playing with a pick because of genre-based snobbery, then I strongly urge you to spend some time with Anthony Jackson (learn ‘For The Love Of Money’ here), Bobby Vega (learn ‘I Get High On You’ here) or Steve Swallow (his melodic work on ‘Sea Journey’ and ‘Midwestern Night’s Dream’ from the Gary Burton Quintet album Passengers are good starting points).

Some readers might feel like this groove is strangely familiar – the line seems to be heavily influenced by The Jacksons’ ‘This Place Hotel’. The bass part on the recording was played by none other than Nathan Watts:

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Groove Of The Week #52: Jamiroquai – ‘Manifest Destiny’

Stuart’s Second Helping We’ve already heard from Jamiroquai twice in this series (GOTW #8: ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’ and GOTW #22: ‘Runaway’) and – as much as…

Stuart’s Second Helping

We’ve already heard from Jamiroquai twice in this series (GOTW #8: ‘Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop’ and GOTW #22: ‘Runaway’) and – as much as I want this series to be as wide-ranging as possible – it’s fair to say that some bands have a disproportionate amount of ‘what was that?’ bass moments in their back catalogue. So, here we are with another piece of Stuart Zender’s bass legacy, taken from the band’s second album The Return of the Space Cowboy (1994).

‘Manifest Destiny’ might seem an odd choice for a Groove Of The Week post; it’s not really a groove in the traditional sense of the word, and there are plenty of other Jamiroquai tracks worth a look (‘Don’t Give Hate a Chance’, anyone?), but Stuart Zender’s bassline showcases a rare opportunity for us to present a melody in the upper register of the fretboard without venturing into bass solo territory – we’re still playing a set part and supporting the song.

The video lesson below walks through the melody and harmony of ‘Manifest Destiny’ bar-by-bar:

For those of us that spend 99% of our time below the seventh fret, where most day-to-day bass playing happens, being given a melodic spotlight moment can be daunting; the bass can feel very different in the higher register, and I find that the fretting hand has to be extra vigilant in order to sculpt every single note with the desired effect. ‘Manifest Destiny’ is also an excellent study in fretting hand articulation – the way that the notes are played holds equal importance as the notes themselves. Careful listening will help you to discern the subtle ways that Stuart Zender uses varied note lengths, slides, hammer-ons and vibrato to make the line really sing out.

The harmony of ‘Manifest Destiny’ is also a level above most pop songs; this is to be expected the clear influence of 1970s jazz-funk artists including Roy Ayers, Stevie Wonder, Lonnie Liston Smith and The Headhunters that shine through in Jamiroquai’s music. The main harmonic accompaniment to the bass melody comes from the piano, which keeps an almost consistent voicing in the right hand while the changing bass notes provide movement:

Approximated piano voicings for ‘Manifest Destiny’

The third chord voicing is worth a mention – the piano plays a chord which is essentially Bm7/E, which creates an Em11 tonality when taken into context with the G natural in the bass part at this point.

Diminishing Returns

The A# diminished 7 chord works in this context because it’s really functioning as a substitution for F#7, the dominant chord in the key of B minor. Thinking about the chord tones of A# diminished 7 in the context of F#7 gives us the major 3rd (A#), perfect 5th (C#), minor 7th (E) and flat 9th (G natural), implying an F#7b9 sound. Using this diminished substitution provides more the chord progression with more tension (and therefore more interest) than using a straightforward dominant 7th chord.

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Groove Of The Week #51: Ghost Note – ‘Swagism’

Ghost Note’s self-titled sophomore release was possibly the high point of 2018 for hipster musician-types; two members of Snarky Puppy and MonoNeon on the same record? It’s everything that the…

Ghost Note’s self-titled sophomore release was possibly the high point of 2018 for hipster musician-types; two members of Snarky Puppy and MonoNeon on the same record? It’s everything that the fusion world had been dreaming of.

For all of the band’s cutting-edge credentials, the album has a distinctly ‘retro’ feel; the cover art seems to channel Herbie Hancock’s 1970s output, with the music drawing heavily from the jazz-funk canon while adding influences from hip hop, Gospel, Latin, psychedelic and straight-ahead jazz. Regardless of the influences being showcased, there’s always one element at the forefront of the music: groove.

The album’s first instrumental track ‘Swagism’ is the perfect example of this musical melting pot; a balance between a simmering funk vamp and fiery, bebop-tinged unison lines.

‘Swagism’ Main Groove

The main bass groove is a straightforward four-bar pattern that outlines G#m (thinking of it this way rather than Ab saves us some enharmonic misery later on…). Notice the use of the tried-and-tested ‘question and answer’ compositional technique, seen here with two alternate endings:

As you might expect, articulation is integral to getting the bass line to, well, groove; it’s not just the notes themselves, it’s how you play them. My recommended tactic is to listen to the recording repeatedly in order to internalise where the accented notes are in the line and which notes are played using hammer-ons, as this has a huge impact on how the part sits with the other instruments.

THAT Unison Lick

The real reason for including ‘Swagism’ in this series is the monster unison lick that acts as musical ‘punctuation’ between the solos. Lines like this are an excellent resource for building your technique in a musical way; if you’ve spent any amount of time listening to (or even attempting to play) bebop heads and solos, then the language of this lick will feel familiar to you. Although on first listen you might feel like it’s just a barrage of random notes, analysing the line in the context of a familiar jazz chord progression allows us to see that it’s really just a series of chord tones, scale tones and chromatic approach notes, albeit played at high speed.

Here’s the notation for the line, along with my preferred fingering:

swagism unison lick

Cracking The Code

It’s important to break down lines like this into their most basic building blocks in order to help us understand them from a theoretical standpoint and to aid actually playing the damn things. Zooming out and seeing the ‘bigger picture’ shows us that we’re really just outlining three chords; not so bad after all, is it?

swagism chords

The harmony that I’ve used for this analysis is one of several possible interpretations, as there’s not much in the way of chordal support to give us context – there are other ways of breaking down the line and this may well not be how the composers think about it.

We start out by descending a B major 7 arpeggio; the rhythm is typical of figures played by jazz musicians from Charlie Parker onwards – this is something that I’ve also come across when transcribing solos from great improvisers like Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, Paul Desmond and Oscar Peterson. Using plucking-hand raking will make it much easier to get this opening phrase up to tempo. Chord tones are highlighted in blue, while scale tones are red:

From there, we move into outlining the next chord, G#m, via a series of approach notes:

Once we’ve ascended the G#m arpeggio, we’re able to resolve into the C#7 chord by using some chromatic approaches:

There is – of course – more than one way to play the line, and it’s worth experimenting in order to find the one that works best for you. Below is an alternative that keeps everything in one position on the fretboard:

This is the approach that I’d use if I were playing the entire saxophone lick; the last phrase is a good workout for your legato technique, as it will take some control to keep all of the notes at an equal volume:

Got A Favourite Groove?

If you know a groove that you feel deserves wider attention from the bass community then why not leave a comment below to tell everyone about it? Your suggestion might even make it into a future Groove Of The Week post!

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