I hear a clear hat-tip to one Francis Rocco Prestia (with a hint of Jaco’s ‘Come On, Come Over’ groove thrown in). The tempo isn’t bright enough to make the syncopated semiquaver line too troublesome, although shifting up and down the neck in time to grab the high-register double stops might take some practise.
Here are the dots:
I didn’t discover Incognito until the age of 19 when I was introduced to the ‘Tribes, Scribes & Vibes’ album by one of my tutors. Randy Hope-Taylor’s superlative playing on this (and other) Incognito albums definitely had a profound effect on me. Rumour has it that Randy has been known to drive London buses from time to time…
Now Hear This
A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and got my hearing tested. While I’ve always tried to be diligent about wearing earplugs at gigs and rehearsals I still find that my tinnitus is noticeable and it isn’t getting any better. Here’s what almost 17 years of live music look like:
If you work as a musician in the UK then you might be eligible for the Musician’s Hearing Health Scheme which allows you to have a hearing test and custom moulded earplugs for £40 (instead of the usual £170).
It’s About Time
In the nebulous wasteland between Christmas and New Year, I always fall into the trap of looking back over the previous 12 months and fixating on all the things that I still haven’t managed to achieve, then resolving that next year will somehow be different and I’ll get everything done.
Time management is something that I have always struggled with, and this video really hit home:
If you’re not familiar with Bob Reynolds (either his music or his vlog) then I’d highly recommend becoming thoroughly acquainted with both.
If you take a look at the dots you’ll notice that it contains all 12 pitches from the chromatic scale:
Normally the preserve of modern classical composers, 12-tone serialism gets a modern reworking here thanks to Esperanza. Although some of the note choices are decidedly more ‘out there’ than most funk bass grooves, there are some elements that feature in numerous classic funk lines; the use of octave motifs and chromatic approaches with the percolating semiquaver rhythm lend an air of familiarity to an otherwise otherworldly groove.
‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ is packed full of interesting harmonic twists such as this, mixed with melodies that betray a pop sensibility and (of course) groove-laden bass playing.
These are a few of the hallmarks of the Christmas hits that rear their ugly heads at this time of year.
In previous years I’ve told myself that I’ll write them down to avoid having to re-learn them next Christmas, and having recently endured the horror of listening to them again I’ve finally started putting together charts for the usual Christmas suspects.
Here’s the transcription of teenage Bob’s groove on ‘I Get High On You’:
Sixteen years old. Just let that sink in.
(now is probably as good a time as any to do some practice, no?)
Doing It Properly (For Self-Preservation)
A couple of weeks ago I found myself depping with a function band who were playing at a charity event. I got an email in the week before the gig informing me that the guest of honour would be (Madness frontman) Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson.
(non-UK readers: Madness were a popular ska band in the 1980s. Apparently, they hold the record for most time spent in the UK singles charts from 1980-86. Thanks, Wikipedia)
Three tracks to prepare, no rehearsal, no discussion with Mr Suggs about arrangements. I’ll confess now that I spent way more time on those 3 songs than I’ve ever done on learning a First Dance for a wedding gig – not because I’m a big fan of Madness or I was expecting Suggs to turn around and offer me a gig at the end of it, but because the music deserved my time and my respect. You get out what you put in, it seems.
Performing hit songs with the person that wrote them was definitely a nerve-wracking experience but also hugely rewarding.
Here’s how the gig looked:
Charts of the aforementioned Madness tunes will appear shortly.
And no, sunglasses indoors were not my choice. I’m not that unbearable. Yet.
Doing It Properly (For Self-Perfection)
Enough with the clanging already, back to reality.
Sometimes opportunities come up that are extremely time-consuming and have little or no financial reward but are deeply fulfilling on a musical level.
If you’ve spent enough time on this blog you’ll know I’m a massive Wayne Krantz fanboy, so it’ll come as no surprise that when I was offered the chance to work on a project involving his material I wanted to get it right.
Cue lots of saturated listening to the original recording and live bootlegs and lots of swearing trying to figure out what the hell Lincoln Goines was up to.
And lots of coffee.
I even wrote out the dots by hand to aid memorisation of the part. Here’s the first page of scribbling:
A few days before the session Wayne actually released the score for this tune. Sure, it would’ve saved me lots of hours if I’d had his chart in the first place, but I would have missed out on the process.
Here’s how it turned out. Makes a change from playing Lionel Richie on a Saturday night, that’s for sure:
Time Mismanagement – Joe Dart’s ‘Birdwatcher’ bass part – How I Spent My Summer This post features the bass-wrangling of Vulpeck’s Joe Dart. If you’re not familiar with Vulfpeck (or…
Time Mismanagement – Joe Dart’s ‘Birdwatcher’ bass part – How I Spent My Summer
This post features the bass-wrangling of Vulpeck’s Joe Dart. If you’re not familiar with Vulfpeck (or Joe), I suggest taking a break from this blog immediately and listening to this.
More on that later. For those who are just joining us for post 36 in the ‘Groove of The Week’ series (or those who have followed from the start and are wondering if there’s an end in sight) here’s the concept:
At the start of 2015, I had the bright idea to upload a video of one of my favourite bass grooves each week and simultaneously blog about it on this site with an accompanying transcription. Easy, right?
For most people, maybe. Fast forward to late October 2016 and I still haven’t finished the damn thing. Not only that but the posting of videos and transcriptions is wildly out of sync.
Why? In a word, life. I’ll do my best to steam through the rest of the series as best I can.
Anyway, here’s one of my favourites. Better late than never:
This is definitely one of the silliest bass lines in this series, and many people might not view it as a groove in the traditional sense – it doesn’t feature any regularly repeating phrases at all and uses almost the entire range of the instrument.
Whilst it doesn’t provide the typical bass ostinato that underpins the other songs from the Groove of The Week posts it does show what you can do with a run-of-the-mill I7-IV7 chord progression (if you’re Joe Dart, that is).
Here’s the transcription of the bass part to ‘The Birdwatcher’:
Most of the part is standard R’n’B bass vocabulary, just played at a challenging tempo; exactly what Jaco made a career from.
Speaking of Jaco, last week Vulfpeck unleashed this video of them playing a new track entitled ‘Dean Town’. Sound familiar, anyone?
Dis. Gust. Ing. One to put on the transcription list, for sure.
How I Spent My Summer, Part 1
In July I got the chance to work with guitarist and arranger Andy Little on his personal project, a horn-led 9 piece jazz/funk outfit called ‘Mr Little’s Noisy Band’.
Here’s a video from a live studio session that we did at Masterlink Productions near Guildford. The rhythm section had rehearsed prior to the recording but this was the first time that we’d all had a chance to play in the same room together. For those who are interested in gear, I did the whole thing with just a bass and a D.I. box straight into Pro Tools.
It seems that I DO have a sight reading face after all:
Well… It was cheap. The Ibanez GWB35 has a strong reputation for being a good value fretless, and I felt like it was a worthwhile investment. Given my recent conversion to Jaco-ism it was only a matter of time before my resolve weakened and I gave into the lure of the fretless bass, although I won’t be gigging it anytime soon – whilst previous owners have made some positive alterations to the bass, such as stripping away the original ‘none more black’ finish (so it closely resembles the more expensive GWB1005), the nut was re-cut at some point and the action got set so low that the strings were practically touching the fretboard. In spite of my best setup efforts, the bass isn’t playing as I’d like it to so it’s heading off to my local tech for some serious attention.
But hang on, isn’t low action a desirable thing? Surely it means that our fretting hand has less work to do and prevents our plucking hand from wasting energy – doesn’t Gary Willis himself state that digging in too much is “the worst thing you can do on a fretless”?
I agree, up to a point. But if it’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s ‘string ticklers’.
Let’s get one thing straight: Gary Willis is, in my opinion, a total genius. He has one of the most highly evolved right hand approaches around, is an absolute master of playing across a huge dynamic spectrum and (to my ears, at least) is one of the few fretless bassists who doesn’t stand in the shadow of Jaco.*
But I disagree with his views on tone production – Willis advocates playing with a light touch and cranking the amp to get appropriate onstage volume, while I believe that giving the string more energy (notice I didn’t use the phrase ‘playing harder’) results in more authoritative playing and a superior tone.
Tone is in the ear of the beholder, as it were.
*For reference, the late Percy Jones is pretty much the only other fretless player who really grabs my attention. Sorry, Pino.
The Right Stuff
This was crystallised for me during a clinic given by Todd Johnson when I was at university (some readers will already be aware that Todd Studied extensively with Gary, so their right hand philosophies are similar). Todd was discussing the ‘floating thumb’ technique and advocating playing with a light touch and letting the amp do the work, and he demonstrated this by playing an Earth, Wind and Fire groove. Whilst there was no debating that he was playing the right notes in time and in the correct order there was something missing – it didn’t groove in the same way that Verdine White’s version does.
The reason? In my opinion, the right hand wasn’t being viewed as the principle source of the sound.
I say this as a reformed string tickler. Check out my mark sheet from an assessment at university:
Nothing makes you go home and get your shit together quicker than seeing the words WEAK TONE used to describe your playing.
Fusion, With A Capital ‘F’
Anyway, here’s Groove of the Week #35, which features yours truly playing one of Gary Willis’ most famous lines with a not-so-light touch:
As with the groove from Jaco’s ‘Come On, Come Over’ that was transcribed in the last post, Gary’s line on ‘Face First’ features frequent use of right hand raking to play ghost notes. I’ve chosen to notate the open strings that I rake rather than attempting to pitch the muted notes.
Rest In Peace, Rod Temperton
On Wednesday we lost Rod Temperton. Who? Keyboard player in 1970’s disco outfit Heatwave and pop writer extraordinaire. He wrote this:
Probably the funkiest man to come out of Cleethorpes. You’ll be sorely missed, Rod.
MJ’s ‘Off The Wall’ album is one of my go-to CDs for driving to and from gigs – expect to see a few of Louis Johnson’s classic lines appearing on the transcriptions page over the coming months.
The Man Who Changed Everything – Melody, Not Chops – Confessions of a Gearaholic, Part 2 On September 21st 1987 John Francis Anthony Pastorius III left this world, dying…
The Man Who Changed Everything – Melody, Not Chops – Confessions of a Gearaholic, Part 2
On September 21st 1987 John Francis Anthony Pastorius III left this world, dying as result of injuries inflicted by a nightclub bouncer. In the space of twelve years he had managed to completely revolutionise all aspects of the electric bass, redefining the role of the bassist and reinventing the instrument itself.
29 years have passed and we’re still trying to get our ears, fingers and brains around Jaco’s enormously influential body of work. His sonic trademarks can be heard in almost every contemporary bassist’s ‘bag of tricks’ and his superhuman performances on tracks like ‘Teen Town’, ‘Havona’ and ‘Port of Entry’ still provide huge technical challenges for those who are brave enough to attempt them. In the same way that Jimi Hendrix turned guitar playing on its head in the 1960s, Jaco took Leo Fender’s creation and pushed it to its limits. It’s rare that one player defines the sound of an instrument, but that’s what Jaco did with the fretless bass. In addition to his adventures with pliers and epoxy resin, Jaco popularised many ‘extended’ bass techniques including chords, harmonics (both natural and artificial) and the use of effects.
For me, one aspect of Jaco’s approach that seems the most relevant in ‘everyday’ musical situations is his fingerstyle funk playing. He took the influnce of classic R’n’B players including Jamerson, Jerry Jemmott and Tommy Cogbill and fused them with his assertive bridge pickup tone, resulting in something altogether new.
One of his first prominent recordings was Little Beaver’s ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ in 1974. He was 23:
What I find remarkable about this record is that with the space of a bar I know that it’s Jaco – he was already a fully-formed artist with a distinctive style by the time he reached his twenties.
If the initial groove to ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ seems familiar, here’s why:
‘Kuru’ from Jaco’s debut solo record has essentially the same groove, albeit at a more finger-destroying tempo.
Sticking with Jaco’s first album, the chorus groove of ‘Come On, Come Over’ contains another of Jaco’s most frequently used (and most copied) licks:
The constant barrage of semiquavers is daunting at first, and this was definitely not something that I got together in 15 minutes. For a long period of time I used ‘Come On, Come Over’ as my warmup for practising and to get my fingers moving before going onstage at gigs. Regular visitors to this blog will know that I prefer to use real musical examples to develop technique rather than finger permutation exercises or any other similar nonsense cooked up by people to sell books (or, these days, online courses).
The key (for me, at least) to executing the lick correctly is use of right hand raking (using the same finger to pluck consecutive strings when descending).
In the transcription of the chorus to ‘Come On, Come Over’ there are red brackets which indicate where I use the same finger to play several notes in succession:
If you’re looking for a relatively easy way to get some Jaco into your playing then this is a good lick to start with – he used it everywhere; Weather Report’s ‘Barbary Coast’ is built almost entirely on this lick (played at a less demanding tempo):
My Path to Pastorius
My route to becoming a Jaco fanboy was not straightforward. I remember finding my Dad’s cassette tape of Weather Report’s ‘Heavy Weather’ shortly after taking up the bass at 14, but my ears weren’t ready for it and it swiftly fell out of favour, replaced by Jamiroquai and Rage Against The Machine. Some years later I went through the rite of passage of learning ‘Portrait Of Tracy’, but his playing didn’t consume me until much more recently.
In my last year of university I became very taken with Pat Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’ album (featuring Jaco and Bob Moses), which slowly led me to rediscover – and become obsessed by – Jaco’s contributions to the electric bass.
Just to be clear, this is not a ‘chops-based infatuation’ thing. Jaco’s impeccable touch on the instrument and overriding sense of melody are the things that I find truly inspiring – few players in the post-Jaco era can present high register lines in the same way that he did on ‘Cannonball‘ and ‘A Remark You Made‘.
In fact, I’ll take Joni Mitchell-era Jaco over most of his other output. If you’re not familiar with Joni’s ‘Hejira’ album then stop reading this immediately and remedy the situation.