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.