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Here come the dots

Tag: Me’Shell Ndegeocello

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 #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 #6: Me’Shell Ndegéocello – ‘The Way’

This groove easily makes it into my top 10 bass lines of all time. If you’re a bassist who wants to groove and you haven’t checked out Me’shell’s records then…

This groove easily makes it into my top 10 bass lines of all time. If you’re a bassist who wants to groove and you haven’t checked out Me’shell’s records then you’re missing out.

In fact, stop reading this right now and treat yourself to Plantation Lullabies and Peace Beyond Passion. You can thank me later.

Here’s how it looks written out:

 

I’ve spent a lot of time transcribing Me’shell’s lines – almost every song from her first 2 albums has at least one groove that I just had to learn. ‘The Way’ is a good introduction to Me’shell’s playing, featuring sixteenth note syncopation and a range of articulations – many of her lines are all about the feel, and luckily this one sits right on the beat (skip ahead to GOTW 50 if you want to attempt a Me’shell line with a more challenging time feel…).

 

 

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