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Category: GOTW 4

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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Groove Of The Week #50: Joshua Redman – ‘Greasy G’

GOTW HITS 50! It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late…

GOTW HITS 50!

It’s finally here. The last instalment of the Groove of The Week series – what should have taken a year has taken nearly 3, but better late than never…

Back To The Start

This groove is actually what started everything; I remember getting hold of the Joshua Redman Elastic Band album Momentum (2005) when I was a student and immediately got hooked on the combination of jazz harmony and deep groove that ran through every track. Momentum features a number of guest musicians throughout the album, but because I’d, errr… ‘acquired’ it I didn’t have access to the cd liner notes to see who played on each track; I could hear that one of the bassists sounded like Flea, but there was one groove that totally floored me:

I’d never heard anyone play a groove with that feel before – this was some years after Pino’s laid back grooves on D’Angelo’s much-lauded, behind-the-beat masterpiece Voodoo (2000) and J Dilla’s brand of ‘drunk hip-hop’ was old news, but this was something else. I had to know who it was and how the hell they could sound like that.

And so began my 12-year (and counting) love affair with Me’shell Ndegeocello; she and Anthony Jackson have the rare ability to make me feel like every single note that they have ever played is absolutely perfect.

Here are the dots:

Incidentally, Me’shell uses a very similar groove on here tune ‘GOD.FEAR.MONEY’:

 

Catching the feel(s)

So, how do you get to sound like that? This was by far the most difficult Groove of The Week track for me to get the hang of; I’m not claiming to even be in the same ballpark, feel-wise, but here are my two cents:

Listen, listen, listen. Then listen some more – every aspect of the music needs to be in your bones.

Record yourself. Listen critically (analyse your waveforms, if necessary).

Are you rushing? Dragging? Dragging? Do you even know?

(Here would be a suitable place for a Whiplash reference, but I thought it one of the worst things ever – Rocky for jazz drummers.)

The point of this is that you can’t be objective about your playing while you’re playing, because too much of your brain’s ‘bandwidth’ is taken up with the act of playing. Recording yourself is a brutally effective mechanism for finding out how you actually sound, not how you think you sound. I have a hunch that this is the reason that session greats such as Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, Bernard Purdie and Nathan East sound so incredible – they have heard their playing on tape countless times, allowing them to develop a total understanding of how to internally direct their playing to achieve the desired external sound.

This is getting worryingly metaphysical, so let’s wrap it up here. May the groove be with you.

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Groove Of The Week #49: Damian Erskine – ‘Kaluanui’

Damian’s Drum-influenced Double-Stops Following on from last week’s double stop adventures with Hiatus Kaiyote, it’s time for another contemporary chordal groove. This edition of Groove of The Week comes courtesy…

Damian’s Drum-influenced Double-Stops

Following on from last week’s double stop adventures with Hiatus Kaiyote, it’s time for another contemporary chordal groove. This edition of Groove of The Week comes courtesy of modern bass master Damian Erskine (his uncle is the Peter Erskine) and provides one hell of a workout for both hands:

As with many of the grooves that underpin Damian’s debut album (2010’s ‘So To Speak’), the introduction to ‘Kaluanui’ showcases his incredible command of rhythmic ideas and dynamic contrast. In between each chordal flourish is a series of of ghost notes that act as an additional percussion instrument, giving the line a sense of perpetual motion and augmenting the groove without overcrowding the harmonic content.

 

Speaking of the harmonic content, the groove sits predominantly in F major, using double stop 10ths to imply Bb major, A minor, D minor and C major. On the third iteration of the line there’s a brief departure to a new tonality with the arrival of a D/F# chord.

As far as the left hand is concerned, I fret all the major 10ths with 2nd and 4th fingers, while minor 10ths are covered by 1st and 2nd fingers (or 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers in the case of the D minor chord shape that appears in bars 4 and 16).

10ths are a great way of conveying chordal sounds in a ‘shorthand’ fashion and a useful addition to any bassist’s toolkit as they tend to ‘speak’ more clearly than more densely populated chords. Notice how some of the major chords feature a hammer-on from the 9th into the 10th, which is a great way to add melodic interest to an otherwise chordal line.

As far as the right hand goes, ‘Kaluanui’ is a great groove to use as a developmental tool for your palm muting skills – I’ve used the classical guitar system for naming the plucking fingers (p=thumb, i=index finger, m=middle finger). It might take a while for the p,m,i motion required to execute the ghost notes to feel comfortable, but once you’ve mastered it then it’s great way to add a percolating percussive element to your bass parts where appropriate; it’s no surprise to learn that Damian Erskine started out his musical career as a drummer, switching to bass once he was at the Berklee College of Music – lots of his grooves feel like they were composed from a ‘rhythm first’ perspective.

For a deeper insight into Damian’s highly evolved right hand technique, take a look at his book Right Hand Drive.

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Groove Of The Week #48: Hiatus Kaiyote – ‘By Fire’

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon). High…

After an extended hiatus (geddit?) the lumbering juggernaut that is Groove of The Week is back (for those who are sick of, fear not – it’ll be over soon).

High Time For Some Odd Time

So far, all of the featured grooves have been relatively conventional single note, 4/4 affairs. Time to change all that.

How about playing a 5/4 groove that uses chordal techniques interspersed with single note 16th lines at 128bpm? Enter Hiatus Kaiyote’s ‘By Fire’:

I first encountered this tune as a commissioned transcription for a client (before you ask, I no longer undertake bespoke transcription work, sorry). Writing out the whole tune was challenging, to say the least. Here’s how the main groove looks on paper:

Hiatus Kaiyote - By Fire

Hiatus Kaiyote’s bass player Paul Bender casually matches the keyboard’s lines note for note for the entire song, throwing in double stops to provide a more detailed representation of the harmony (the double stops in question start off as major 7ths, with the last two bars using major 10ths to provide variation).

In order to properly execute this line and let the root note of the double stop ring out while articulating the melody we’re going to have to adopt free strokes with the plucking hand – this is where the fingers pluck upwards and away from the bass, as opposed to our normal rest strokes where the plucking fingers play into the bass and come to rest on a lower string.

Free, or not to free? That is the question

Normally, I avoid free strokes because they result in what I’d term as homeopathic bass playing – since most of the energy is directed away from the bass it’s hard to achieve a solid tone and things end up sounding a bit weedy. However, in situations where double stops are required, it’s almost impossible to achieve the correct sound with rest strokes – your thumb is plucking the root note using a free stroke, so trying to make your fingers perform a rest stroke at the same time is somewhat brain-scrambling. Each stroke also requires a slightly different hand position, so changing between the two is physically demanding to coordinate at fast tempos.

So, how best to tackle this difficult line? The answer is the same as this often cited (and rather bizarre) question:

‘How do you eat an elephant?’

 

The answer? One mouthful at a time – isolate small sections of the line and practise slower than you think you need to until they become second nature and you’re not consciously thinking about the technique or the notes.

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Groove Of The Week #47: Chic – ‘Can’t Stand To Love You’

For many readers, the following scenario will ring true: in order to earn a living from being a musician you have to take on covers gigs and spend the majority…

For many readers, the following scenario will ring true: in order to earn a living from being a musician you have to take on covers gigs and spend the majority of your Friday and Saturday nights in pubs/bars/marquees/hotel function rooms persuading punters to stay on the dance floor.

Selecting the right repertoire to get revellers out of their seats is an art in itself, and it’s no surprise that there are certain tunes that seem to crop up on every set list. Many great artists have their extensive back catalogues reduced to a couple of numbers that are guaranteed to work; take Stevie Wonder for example – think about how many bands play ‘Superstition’ compared to how often ‘Part Time Lover’ or ‘Do I Do’ get an airing.

Regardless of which band I’m working with, there are some tunes that somehow manage to appear on the set list at almost every single gig:

Good times
Le freak
We are family 

But wait… don’t Chic (and Sister Sledge) have lots of other songs? It turns out that Bernard Edwards had some great grooves that don’t get churned out every weekend in wedding venues around the world. Here’s one of my personal favourites:

‘Can’t Stand To Love You’ is a masterclass in writing a busy, yet hook-laden bass line. The main chorus groove uses melodic sequencing, wide intervals and chromatic approach notes – a combination used frequently in bebop improvisation – within the context of a song designed to make people dance.

Whereas some artists have tried to inject aspects of jazz vocabulary into pop music and have ended up sounding too clever for their own good (I’m looking at you, Sting), Bernard & Co. managed to keep disco’s dance-friendly sensibility at the core of their music while adding a touch of harmonic invention.

 

A closer look at the phrase in bar in bar 2 reveals why the line works so well; each double chromatic approach lands on either a chord tone or an extension of the underlying Eb7 chord and is followed by a leap of a diatonic 6th. Once we’ve heard beats 1 and 2 our ears know exactly what should come next – there’s a sense of inevitability to the melodic line which is created by the symmetrical descending pattern.

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