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Category: Groove of the Week

Groove Of The Week #44: Squarepusher – ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’

Like many bass players, I became infatuated with the sound of harmonics on hearing Jaco’s iconic ‘Portrait of Tracy’ for the first time; somehow JP had managed to transform the…

Like many bass players, I became infatuated with the sound of harmonics on hearing Jaco’s iconic ‘Portrait of Tracy’ for the first time; somehow JP had managed to transform the mumbling, monophonic plank of wood that is the bass guitar into a rich tapestry of shimmering harmonic (in both senses of the word) textures:

 

Imagine the horror of being a bassist in 1976 and hearing THAT. Luckily I grew up in the era of TAB books and Hot Licks videos, so I was able to ‘cheat’ my way into executing a sloppy approximation of Jaco’s harmonic vocabulary without too much effort. Thanks, Stu:

 

(I would love to have been at the meeting where they agreed on the title, the cover shot and wardrobe for this)

Playing ‘real’ bass using harmonics

While many players are comfortable with natural harmonics, few can incorporate them into everyday musical situations and most of the time they tend to remain in the ‘solo bass’ realm; I thought that Groove Of The Week should focus on at least one line that uses harmonics and fretted notes in more practical, supportive role.

Enter Squarepusher’s ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’:

This is a real gem – a self-contained contrapuntal line with two distinct voices (fretted bass notes and a melody built entirely from natural harmonics) that provides a real workout for the left hand; dump your finger independence exercises and give this a go instead.

Everything in its right place

As if playing the thing wasn’t enough, notating natural and artificial harmonics is another headache altogether.

Most natural harmonics have a completely different sounding pitch to their position on the fretboard and because we tend to learn harmonics by their location on the fretboard rather than their actual pitch name it’s easy to get lost if we use conventional notation. We have a few options when it comes to writing this stuff down:

  1. Write out all harmonics at sounding pitch, using 8va and 15ma markings to keep things as close to the stave as possible
  2. Notate harmonics using the location of the fretted note where the harmonic is located
  3. A hybrid of the above methods
  4. Tablature

Let’s discount option 4 immediately since TAB is scientifically proven to weaken your sperm and significantly increase your chances of knowing less about harmony than most guitar players (don’t ask me for citations on the first part).

After much head scratching and hurling expletives at Sibelius, I opted for option 3. Here’s the most legible thing that I could come up with:

Iambic 9 Poetry

Good luck, and if you have an alternative means of notation for harmonics then PLEASE get in touch.

 

Do You know Squarepusher?

If you’re unfamiliar with Squarepusher (real name Tom Jenkinson), then ‘Iambic 9 Poetry’ is one of the more accessible cuts from the reclusive English bassist’s back catalogue. His recorded output ranges from intense, glitchy electronica with live bass (Hard Normal Daddy and Big Loada) to melodic 6-string bass explorations (Solo Electric Bass), and his current project Shobaleader One provides a live band take on his earlier electronic works:

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Groove Of The Week #43 – Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’

  Berry Gordy’s Other Bass Player Although The Funk Brothers’ catalogue of classic bass lines is normally associated with James Jamerson, there was another guy on the scene whose lines…

 

Berry Gordy’s Other Bass Player

Although The Funk Brothers’ catalogue of classic bass lines is normally associated with James Jamerson, there was another guy on the scene whose lines deserve attention when considering the tradition of the bass guitar.

That man was Bob Babbitt, who worked on many Motown hits between 1966 and 1972, sharing the Funk Brothers’ bass chair with Jamerson. During his tenure in Detroit, Babbitt added masterful bass lines to hits including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ and The Temptations’ ‘Ball of Confusion’.

1971 was a particularly significant year in Bob’s career, where he not only managed to get away with recording a 90-second bass solo on a single release (Dennis Coffey’s ‘Scorpio‘) but also played on one of Motown’s most important albums, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Legendary among bass players for the tales of James Jamerson recording the title track’s breathtaking bass part while lying on the floor because he was so drunk, What’s Going On also includes some of Babbitt’s best bass hooks on ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’ and ‘Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)’.

Inner City Groove

Anchored by Bob Babbitt’s syncopated yet smoothly articulated bass groove, ‘Inner City Blues’ forms part of the essential education for bassists studying what the masters of the instrument play on a one-chord vamp:

The main line is comprised of a phrase built from the chord tones of Ebm7 that has two endings (the first on a high Gb, the second on a low Eb). The thing that hits me when I listen to the track while looking through the transcription is how little variation there is on each repetition, giving Bob’s warm Precision bass groove an almost hypnotic quality.

 

Inner City BluesThe line sits neatly in one position at the 11th fret apart from the low Gb in bar 6. As with everything that we ever play, being a stickler over note lengths will allow the line to feel right. Opt for a warm fingerstyle sound – roll the tone control on your bass down and move your right hand to pluck over the end of the fingerboard if your bass sounds too bright.

Later Years

Post-Motown, Bob managed to rack up over 25 Gold records playing for artists including Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Phil Collins and relocated to Nashville in 1986. His decision to take touring work during that period rather than remaining in town meant that his recording work began to wane, although the release of the 2002 documentary film ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Motown’ revived his career as people became interested in the men behind Motown’s signature sound.

Bob Babbitt left us on July 16th, 2012.

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Groove of the Week #42: Herbie Hancock – ‘Palm Grease’

Everyone knows Herbie’s classic synth bass line on ‘Chameleon’, and plenty of guys can tear through ‘Actual Proof’ without breaking a sweat but for me, the real gem in the…

Everyone knows Herbie’s classic synth bass line on ‘Chameleon’, and plenty of guys can tear through ‘Actual Proof’ without breaking a sweat but for me, the real gem in the Head Hunters’ catalogue of grooves has always ‘Palm Grease’ (from 1974’s Thrust).

As soon as you hear Mike Clarke’s drum groove kick in, you know something serious is going to happen.

 

Paul Jackson’s bass line on ‘Palm Grease’ is a masterclass in how to develop and expand a groove, using just enough variation to keep the listener guessing while still retaining a ‘common thread’. After the initial statement, he begins to embellish the part – notice how the line unfolds with each successive iteration:

 

Rhythmic variation is only part of the equation; one of the most distinctive qualities of Paul Jackson’s playing is his mastery of articulation. The elusive essence of groove comes from how each note is played – check out how each note in every phrase is carefully sculpted for maximum impact.

Control of the left hand is key to being able to freely switch between different articulations; slides, hammer-ons and – most importantly – the length of each note all put a different sonic stamp on each phrase.

As an aside, I found this one of the most difficult grooves in this series – although other posts in the Groove Of The Week archive have required a greater level of conventional ‘chops’, Paul Jackson’s time feel on ‘Palm Grease’ was the hardest thing to recreate.

 

The heir to the (greasy) throne

 

One contemporary bassist who has clearly taken a lot from Paul Jackson’s greasy grooves is Me’shell N’degeocello*, who has been (and continues to be) a massive influence on my playing.

I unknowingly first heard Me’Shell on a tune by Joshua Redman called ‘Greasy G’ (from the 2005 Momentum album) and was absolutely floored by her time feel:

 

With both of these grooves, it’s the almost undefinable quality of feel that sets the head nodding or the foot tapping; it’s not necessarily what you play but how you play it that counts.

 

*If you’re not familiar with Me’Shell, get hold of Plantation Lullabies and Peace Beyond Passion for some serious groove education.

 

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Groove Of The Week #41: Maxwell – ‘Welcome’

One of my initial goals in undertaking the Groove Of The Week was to strike a balance between well-known ‘classic’ bass lines and lesser-known songs that have been particularly important…

One of my initial goals in undertaking the Groove Of The Week was to strike a balance between well-known ‘classic’ bass lines and lesser-known songs that have been particularly important in my bass education and that I feel deserve a wider audience.

This is the second Maxwell song to feature in this series (Jonathan Maron’s bass part from ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’ was the star of Groove Of The Week #21). I discovered Maxwell’s Now and Urban Hang Suite when I was 18, and both albums marked a pivotal point in my progression as a musician – although I’d been playing bass for 4 years and decided that I wanted to study music at university, I had no real concept of groove.

Wait, what?

Embarrassing as it is to admit, my early musical upbringing consisted distinctly groove-free music; Bach, The Eagles, Dire Straits and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I developed an instinctive understanding of a broad range of white, guitar-led rock and metal music but had very little exposure to anything else. Bass-wise, I was heavily into Dream Theater, Pantera, Primus, Sikth and various dubious, slap-happy, Hot Licks videos; my framework of what it meant to be a ‘pro’ bassist was entirely based on technique, not groove.

The music on Maxwell’s first two albums totally floored me – here were groove-driven songs that often had prominent bass parts. Songs like ‘Temporary Nite‘ and ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin’‘ were the first occasions that I’d heard slap used in a non-pyrotechnic capacity, and the unwavering groove on ‘Welcome’ proved to be almost hypnotic:

 

It turned out that the lines that had knocked me out hadn’t sprung forth from the fingers of Stu Hamm, Victor Wooten or any of my other Hot Licks Heroes; in fact, they hadn’t even been dreamt up by ‘big name’ session guns like Will Lee, Marcus Miller or ‘Ready’ Freddie Washington – they were played by relatively obscure musicians, some of whom weren’t ‘career’ bassists. The groove on ‘Welcome’ comes courtesy of Stewart Matthewman, a British-born musician who originally played guitar in Sade’s band. Matthewman played on and produced many of the tracks on Urban Hang Suite and Now, contributing bass to several tracks (the rest of the bass playing was split between Jonathan Maron, Michael ‘Funky Ned’ Neal and Gary Foote).

Here are the dots:

No double-thumbing, no tapping, no sliding harmonics. Just groove.

From that point onwards, I was set on a different, more groove-orientated path; the same friend that introduced me to Maxwell pointed me in the direction of Stevie Wonder tunes that weren’t ‘Superstition’, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye. I remain a huge fan of metal, although Meshuggah and Lamb of God are now reserved for gym time rather than all of the time.

 

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Groove Of The Week #40: Tower of Power – Maybe It’ll Rub Off

Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia’s unshakeable semiquavers have been the foundation of Tower Of Power for almost 50 years (that’s an awful lot of notes…). Along with drummer David Garibaldi, Rocco has…

Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia’s unshakeable semiquavers have been the foundation of Tower Of Power for almost 50 years (that’s an awful lot of notes…). Along with drummer David Garibaldi, Rocco has been a mainstay of funk’s most celebrated rhythm sections, providing the backbone to ToP’s signature grooves including ‘Soul Vaccination’, ‘What Is Hip?’, ‘Soul With A Capital ‘S” and ‘There’s Only So Much Oil In The Ground’.

I felt like it would be criminal to run a series of posts about groove without including at least one of Rocco’s lines, but I was determined not to go for the obvious choices. ‘Maybe It’ll Rub Off’ (from 1975’s Urban Renewal) revolves around an ear-catching unison riff which features plenty of Rocco’s famously tight 16th-note playing:

The bass line on ‘Maybe It’ll Rub Off’ requires a fair amount of technical control to execute with authority; semiquavers at 111bpm isn’t too horrific given that the ‘question and answer’ nature of the riff provides plenty of opportunities for your fingers to recover. On a nuts and bolts level, the notes fall into the classic minor pentatonic box pattern (albeit with a small position shift and some chromatic passing tones thrown in to add some colour). Getting from the extremely high register fill back to a low F in time requires some acrobatics unless your bass is blessed with a multitude of extra strings; if you’re the owner of a 4-string bass with 20 or 21 frets then you’ll have to skip this (or play the high notes using artificial harmonics, a la Gary Willis…). 

For those of you who are interested in finding out more about Rocco’s signature semiquaver style there’s a very informative (and relatively comical) instructional video by the man himself:

I seem to remember that the original VHS had a blooper reel included. Unfortunately, this seems to have been clipped from the YouTube upload. For shame.

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Groove Of The Week #39: Incognito – ‘Talkin’ Loud’

From Basses to Buses – Wear Your Damn Earplugs – Time Management It’s 2017 and I’m still way behind on this damn project. Here’s Randy Hope-Taylor’s excellent part on Incognito’s…

From Basses to Buses – Wear Your Damn Earplugs – Time Management

It’s 2017 and I’m still way behind on this damn project. Here’s Randy Hope-Taylor’s excellent part on Incognito’s ‘Talkin’ Loud’:

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:

incognito-talkinloud

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:

img_3685

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.

 

 

 

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