Title: Oye Mi Tres Montuno
Artist: Israel “Cachao” Lopez
Album: “Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature: Descargas”
I recently realized that I have a huge gap in musical knowledge when it comes to any music with a clave or a tumbao. I have a rudimentary “jazz” knowledge of the music, which consists of every bleached-out arrangement I've done in big bands and small groups, but haven't taken the time to study the roots at all until I found this CD. It was widely hailed by every person I could find who knew about this album, so I thought I should start my research with this (not to mention Israel “Cachao” Lopez is a pretty killing bassist, and I'll be doing more transcriptions of his stuff in the coming months). That doesn't actually need to be in parentheses, check him out starting at 0:30, and most notably at 4:50: Cachao Demonstrates Cuban Rhythms.
Since I bought the record, I've listened to it on repeat a few times and just reveled in how incredibly tight these musicians are. What I noticed most was their rhythm; they can't be beat in their ability to fit exactly where they want whenever they want and make it feel like it's perfect. I guess that's the consequence of playing in a group that is over half percussionists.
This transcription is much of the guitar part from one of my favorite tracks off the album, “Oye Mi Tres Montuno”. What struck me most was both that they used an octaved string instrument that sounds like a 12-string guitar (but I think is a trės, [thanks, John!]), which is just a rad timbre I forget about, but also the way they used rhythm in their soloing. My grasp of executing complex harmony during improvisation is weak in comparison to my rhythm, so I thought examining and analyzing their use of rhythm would be a cool way to expand further my rhythmic vocabulary. I will warn you, this track is incredible, and the musical interplay is infectious.
Intro, Groove, and Solo 1: I thought these examples show pretty well how different elements of the band interact, and in this particular case, I've put these examples up against the rhythm of Cachao's bass line. Notice how well the Intro and the Groove fits in to the bass' rhythm?
Now take a look at how Solo 1 interacts with it; it's almost completely against it, falling in line with it only really by accident, but the interplay is what makes it compelling to me (not to mention the D7(b9) arpeggios which feels similarly awesome):
As a dude who was steeped in the backbeat tradition of American music, the use of clave within this music is still a bit beyond my comprehension. In contrast to the bass drum/bass line lock-up that is used almost everywhere, "the Cubans standardized their myriad rhythms...by relating nearly all of them to the clave pattern...[and i]t’s commonly understood that the actual clave pattern does not need to be played in order for the music to be 'in clave'," (David Peñalosa, The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins.) These two lines show a brief example of these ideas.
Note: The rest of the excerpts can be found here in the PDF.
Solo 2, 3, and 6: These all show what I absolutely loved about this solo the first time I heard it. Check out the use of rhythmic ostinatos in these excerpts:
Solo 4: In stark contrast to these dense rhythmic games they play, the space the guitarist employs here is super tasteful:
Solo 5: This is another example of awesome rhythmic ostinatos, but in much higher concentration, hopping from one to another mid-phrase without skipping a beat (pun intended):
Solo 7: I transcribed this one as an example of soloing within the established groove. As somebody who has played his fair share of funk music, I learned through enormous amounts of trial and error that the best bass solos in a funk group are where you just keep the groove and vary what you are already playing:
In closing, this whole album is nuts. If you are a fan of deep pockets, there isn't a weak point on this CD. Israel “Cachao” Lopez just passed away in 2008, but his recordings are completely timeless, and I highly recommend checking out more of his music in the links below. Thanks for reading!