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Tag: Jaco

Jaco Left Clues

September 2017 marked 30 years since the untimely death of Jaco Pastorius, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player of all time’ who completely revolutionised not only the instrument itself but also…

September 2017 marked 30 years since the untimely death of Jaco Pastorius, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest bass player of all time’ who completely revolutionised not only the instrument itself but also the way that it was played – Jaco pioneered the fretless bass and helped to make the electric bass a more legitimate jazz instrument (this may or may not be a terrible thing, depending on your point of view).

So why is everyone still talking about Jaco 30 years after his death? The fact is that he has influenced every single prominent electric bass player that has come through in the ‘post-jaco’ era; it doesn’t matter who you’re into – Pino Palladino, Mark King, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Gary Willis, John Patitucci, Marcus Miller, Will Lee, Richard Bona, Flea, Laurence Cottle, Stu Hamm – all of these great players have stolen a ton of stuff from Jaco. In fact, even if you’re keen on more modern players then Jaco is still relevant, as his influence can be clearly heard in the playing of Evan Marien, Joe Dart (Vulfpeck), Michael League (Snarky Puppy) and Hadrien Feraud.

What made Jaco So Great?

In order to understand why Jaco’s playing had such a profound impact on the history of the instrument we’re going to dig into his first commercial recording as a sideman, R&B guitarist Little Beaver’s ‘I Can Dig It Baby’, which was released in 1974, before Jaco’s infamous debut solo record, his appearance on Pat Metheny’s ‘Bright Size Life’ or Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’.

You can find a pdf of the transcription HERE

This wasn’t Jaco’s first recorded outing as such, he appeared on a record released under Paul Bley’s improvising artists label, originally titled Pastorius/Metheny/Ditmas/Bley (now widely referred to as ‘Jaco’) on which he can be heard playing some utterly ridiculous things in a not particularly accessible electronic free jazz setting. ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ represents Jaco’s first recording that would reach the ears of most mainstream listeners and allows us to study the key elements of his unique style in the context of a 6 minute pop song.

The credit for bass on ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ went to Nelson ‘Jocko’ Padron, but after a handful of notes it’s clear who’s in charge of the low end. What is most significant about Jaco’s recording debut is that it clearly demonstrates that he was a fully formed musician with a unique voice at the age of 22 or 23, which is an extremely rare thing. By examining the transcription of Jaco’s part on ‘I Can Dig It Baby’ we can isolate the fundamental elements of his style that would become so influential in years to come – it’s as if Jaco left us clues as to what he was going to unleash in the future as his career progressed.

5 essential ‘Jaco-isms’

1. Outlining Chords Using Harmonics

Bar 2 of the tune (Jaco’s fourth note of the piece) features a double stop harmonic which outlines the Bm7 chord. Harmonics don’t seem particularly out of the ordinary to us in the present day, but if we go back 30 years the story was very different; although Jaco doesn’t get sole credit for ‘inventing’ the harmonic vocabulary that we have nowadays he was definitely a pioneer of using both natural and false harmonics in order to expand the bass’ ability to convey extended harmony – Jaco totally changed the game with tracks like ‘A Portrait of Tracy’ and ‘Okonkole Y Trompa’ from his self-titled debut, and even managed to integrate them in a singer-songwriter context on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Coyote’.

Voicings like which combine fretted notes with harmonics have become mainstays of the electric bass, and it was Jaco that brought them to our attention.

2. Propulsive 16th note lines

Although Rocco Prestia is widely considered to be the king of relentless 16th note funk grooves – Tower of Power released ‘What Is Hip?’ around the same time as this record came out – Jaco was no slouch either and many of his signature lines, including the chorus to ‘Come On, Come Over’, consist of rapid fire funk motifs interspersed with ghost notes. The 2-bar groove that serves as the main line for this tune is no exception:

Here Jaco begins by outlining the Em7 harmony before descending into open position and using a combination of chord tones and ghost notes to create the rest of the line – he alternates figures on beat 4, first landing on the 5th and then resolving to the open E; this helps to give the groove a more ‘composed’ feeling compared to a constant 1-bar vamp.

Sharp-eyed (and sharp-eared) readers might have spotted that the main groove is almost identical to that of ‘Kuru/Speak Like a Child’ from his debut album, albeit at a slower tempo. The melodic contour of the line is also very similar to that of one of Jaco’s most famous grooves, the chorus of ‘Come on, Come Over’, with the highest note placed on beat 2 of the bar and the introduction of ghost notes in the second half of each bar:

Come One Come Over Chrous Groove

(for a more detailed look at ‘Come On, Come Over’ check out Groove of the Week #34)

3. Chromatic Approach Notes

Another of Jaco’s frequently used trademarks is the chromatic approach, either as a single chromatic approach from a semitone below a chord tone, or a double chromatic approach from a tone below.
These first appear in bars 9 and 10 of the transcription – the sections  labelled as ‘chorus’ and ‘bridge’ on the transcription are also littered with these approaches.

Bar 21 of the transcription shows the use of a double chromatic approach at the end of the second verse, where Jaco targets the major 3rd of the D7 chord and uses the open D string to create a double stop:

He would use throughout his later compositions most notably ‘Continuum’.

The chorus figure that uses root- 5th with single chromatic approaches actually hints at the infamous ‘Jaco Samba’ pattern that forms that basis of his lines on ‘(Used To Be A) Cha Cha’ and ‘Invitation’.

4. Rhythmic Displacement

As the song progresses, the verse/chorus/bridge structure gives way to a lengthy, less structured outro section. Here, Jaco leaves his opening groove behind and gives us another great 2 bar vamp that combines propulsive 16th note playing with chromaticism and some simple, yet effective rhythmic displacement:

Displacing the opening of bar 1 ahead by a 16th note transforms this from a stock Em funk groove into something special.

After 12 bars of this, Jaco cranks out a variation on this line that gives a nod towards what would become a cornerstone of his style…

5. Pentatonic Sequencing

Bar 97 of the transcription shows Jaco playing this line:

The first 2 beats are comprised of a minor pentatonic scale sequenced in 4ths and 5ths – after beginning with the root note he plays 4th to flat 7, 5th to root, then 5th to flat 7; This sort of thing was unusual at the time, with most scale sequencing being of the linear variety (typically using consecutive notes in the scale played in 3 or 4 note groupings).

Jaco was one of the first to employ wider interval skips, which became features of his landmark solos including Continuum, Port of Entry and Havona.

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Why Jaco Still Matters (plus Groove of The Week #34)

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:

gotw-34-come-on-come-over

 

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.

 

It’s In The Ear, Not The Gear

At the end of 2015 I wrote a post about my worrying addiction to buying gear and made a bold proclamation that I was going to ban myself from buying any new gear in 2016.

‘How’s that going?’ I hear you ask. Not well. Not well at all:

Willis

 

More on this next time.

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Fret less, Say More

Last year I got a call to play some bass on some tracks for Records On Ribs artist Talk Less Say More. The plan was to make a record with…

Last year I got a call to play some bass on some tracks for Records On Ribs artist Talk Less Say More. The plan was to make a record with a decidedly 80s feel, which meant that I got to stretch out and take some risks doing things that I don’t usually do as part of my ‘day job’. I seem to remember the conversation going something like this:

“It’d be great to have some fretless bass. Do you have a fretless bass?”

“No…”

“Oh ok… Do you play fretless at all?”

“Sorry, I’ve never played fretless…”

“Ok no problem, we’ll hire you a fretless. It’ll be fine.”

In almost 15 years of playing this was the first time I’d had someone ask for fretless. So, the night before the session I take delivery of an unlined Fender P/J and do my best to get my fingers (and ears) around it.

 

 

On the day I tried to channel the spirit of Pino Palladino/Jaco/Bakithi Kumalo and other fretless players that I’d grown up listening to. Here’s how some of it turned out:

 

 

 

 

So, did the experience persuade me to take the plunge and go fretless? In a word, no.

In spite of the fact that I really enjoyed the session I don’t feel that fretless fits with my ‘voice’ as a bassist – although I’m heavily influenced by fretless players I’m sure if I made the switch then I’d end up sounding even more like a sub-par Jaco or Pino clone.

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Rhythmic Displacement Part 2: Snarky Puppy – ‘What About Me?’

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a transcription of a Meshuggah tune that features some interesting rhythmic displacement ideas. Here’s a transcription in a similar vein…

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a transcription of a Meshuggah tune that features some interesting rhythmic displacement ideas. Here’s a transcription in a similar vein but from a more mainstream (and less angry) source, the heavily syncopated unison line in Snarky Puppy’s ‘What About Me?’:

The section I’ve written out comes at 45s into the track, and is featured again around the 5 minute mark:

Snarky Puppy - What About Me?

Just as in the Meshuggah transcription, the part here gets displaced when it repeats itself, creating an interesting rhythmic effect as the accented melody notes shift (compare bar 1 with bar 3).

This is a real test of your semiquaver rhythm reading abilities, but playing-wise most of the line is straightforward E minor pentatonic and falls under the fingers without too much trouble. The final run is worth taking your time over –  a minor pentatonic played in groups of 5 but phrased in semiquavers which has a strong Jaco influence to it.

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