Transcription of Grooves from The Meters' "Jungle Man"

Title: Jungle Man
Artist: The Meters
Album: Rejuvenation

Listen to "Jungle Man"
"Jungle Man" G/B/D Transcription (PDF)
(Download the drum loop below)

 

As a bass player looking to tighten up my "pocket" (whatever that means), I spent a lot of time looking for drums and bass books to play through and jam on with my friends. Granted, I could have probably spent that time just transcribing it myself, but you know how it goes. In looking for resources, I found a couple really fantastic books: Funkifying The Clave by Lincoln Goines and Robby Ameen, and The Funkmasters - The Great James Brown Rhythm Sections. What I really dug about these books were both that there were songs to play with dope reference recordings, but also that they spoke a little about what made these songs unique and how to approach them. I'm going to try and give back to the bass community with some of my own transcriptions of tunes by The Meters.

The reason I chose the Meters is pretty definite: they do one thing, stick with it, and make it sound incredible. The record "Rejuvenation" is such a good example of their "A-B-repeat" formula that always sounds rad and you can SERIOUSLY groove to. Hailing from New Orleans, they brought a tight-yet-lazy second line feel to their music.

So now, why in particular did I choose "Jungle Man"? I have no idea. I say that to mean that their entire repertoire is good music and it's hard to pick. However, it does have distinctive elements that I think really glue the whole track together.

1. Bass drum and bass are made for each other

As you can see in both the A and the Pre-Chorus sections, the bass drum and bass are playing the same rhythms (watch the rhythm section from Red Hot Chili Peppers say it) with guitar playing a really straight backbeat. Once the B section rolls around, it's different. HOWEVER, instead of locking in with the bass drum, the bass and guitar are now a unit with the drums providing the steady backbeat. They are always using each others' playing to build the groove and that is a large element of what makes their grooves so strong.

2. Busy playing is selective

The most active part of the tune is where there is no vocals. When the vocals are present and most important, they are given the spotlight through the players playing very little; when the vocals are no longer most important in the B section, the bass and guitar come out with a much more rhythmically dense part, and the spotlight goes to them. This is a much different approach than James Brown's tracks with Bootsy like "Sex Machine", where it's pretty much bouncing around in busytown all of the time. It's not that it is more or less effective, but it's a much different approach.

3. In performance, fills are very, very rare.

And if they exist, are very minor. I think one of the only fills he does in this whole track is a fat low E on the fourth beat of the A section. This is my chronic issue is adding more to make it "interesting" when really not doing anything is the way to make it groove hard.

4. No hammer-ons or pull-offs.

In playing along, I noticed he articulates each note separately, which gives a much different sound than through economic left-hand techniques and slurs. It gives a distinct feel and a definite amount of space in between each note that you wouldn't otherwise get. Subtle, but definitely present.


Below, I've created a drum loop of the A section from the intro for solo practice. Note the aspects mentioned above and have fun with it! Once you've got the groove feeling good, try and fool around with changing small aspects of it, like the articulation or being ahead/behind, to find out what really makes bass lines like this one tick.

I can't stress enough the benefits of working on grooves like these as a full rhythm section, or even just as a drum and bass duo. Once you're really feeling comfortable, have one person keep steady on their part while the other person changes stuff up, and vice versa. For me, working on stuff like this taught me a lot about the subtleties of articulation, string choices, where on the string to pluck, and tons more.

Please PLEASE check out more of the Meters. Their rhythm section is unstoppable and deserves serious attention from pretty much every bass player in pretty much every genre. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

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YamaYama's "HELLO RAINBOW" – How Constraints Made Us Sound Way Better

My band YamaYama is releasing a new album of video game arrangements called "HELLO RAINBOW: An Aural Guide to the ZX Spectrum"! This was a crazy project that I was in charge of that was really thrown together in a very short amount of time. Normally I would think of this as a criticism, but in this case, the entire project was built on the fact that we had a few untreatable and unfixable problems, like: having one less member, having only about a month to do everything, no rehearsal time, and two days to record 14 songs. How was this an advantage? Let me show you through the power of demonstration and examples!

First, a shameless plug for the album, which you can preorder and get sweet perks by ordering before April 15th! Click here to check out the preorder! The playlist of the tracks we've released so far is at the top right.

This project was largely inspired by stumbling onto a Youtube video of a bunch of ZX Spectrum "beeper" music. The ZX Spectrum was a personal computer that was popular mostly in Europe around the early to mid 80's and the "beeper" was the tiny speaker built on to the circuit board (bottom right of this picture). This machine was built with the only audio capabilities being 1-bit, meaning either the sound was on or off (for example, a square wave is a 1-bit version of a sine wave, rounding off the sound wave to either on or off). There was a lot of incredible music coming out of something that "realistically" should only create one note at a time, and in particular one composer caught me: Tim Follin.

Tim's music was the first thing that got me thinking about constraints and how to use them to your advantage; his music for the beeper was often 4 to 5 voices with drums and I am still amazed at how that is even possible. For perspective, here is a picture (left) of the waveform from YamaYama's version of Follin's "Future Games" next to the beeper version. Notice the uniformity of the shapes on the original ZX version and how dynamic of a wave form our recording has.

With the constraint of only being able to use 1-bit data entry to make his music, he was still able to make some crazy prog-rock heavy metal insanity. I really really wanted to cover some of the tunes of the ZX Spectrum, including some of his, and so I foolishly thought: what constraints could I put on myself to try and emulate the constraints that these composers had?

HELLO RAINBOW Begins

I based a lot of this project on the idea of February Album Writing Month (FAWM), which is where each participant composes, records, produces, and releases 14 songs in 28 days. So the original idea was to follow that model and start transcribing and arranging 14 tunes for a three piece band in February, record them all over a couple days, produce them, and release them. Sound impossible? It was. This idea was expanded so that normal humans could actually accomplish this task. We ended up with these constraints:

  • 3 people on stripped down instruments (except saxophone) to hold us back, emulating the restraints that the ZX had; a 4-string bass tuned to Eb with a fuzz pedal, and a three piece drum kit
  • Arranging everything starting on January 18th to be ready by February 12th and 26th (for each session)
  • Rehearsing and recording all 14 tunes in 2 days (except for "Antiriad")
  • Have someone not in the group to have total artistic license in the mixing process

Our Constraints

The first constraint was a necessity: our keyboardist was out of the country for all of February and so we only had three people instead of four. The stripping down of the accessories we had (one pedal, three-piece drums with one cymbal and hi-hats) was a hat tip to Deerhoof's Gary Saunier and his hilariously small set up, which he consistently destroys. I also tuned down my bass a half-step to accommodate all of my open strings to the saxophone's more easy keys.

The arrangements was another interesting constraint. Having so little time to get into the music and arrange it led me to really trust the people much more than the music I wrote down, leaving the charts pretty sparse and assuming they would handle it. I am a bit of a control freak with charts (at least I think so), so this was a good trust exercise for me, and the results were beautiful performances all around. I pretty much always put in slashes for the drums so Merlin is pretty much improvising everything the whole time, too.

So rehearsing and recording these tracks in two days was NUTS. The energy was at a peak for each session and I can feel it in most of the recordings, which is awesome, but the thing about making us do SO MUCH in such a ridiculously short period of time was that it put everything we did into an extreme sense of flow; like there was no time for debate, we just made decisions and did it. Some stuff in the music didn't work, so a suggestion was made. Knowing that time was on the line, we changed it, recorded it, then moved on. Things we wouldn't often do in our other recording sessions were done without hesitation and we owned it out of the constraint of time. The charts which were already often based on quick often thoughtless decisions were further changed without a deep pondering, and I feel it leaves the charts feeling really fresh. I'll post up some charts and show you some examples.

After these sessions, we handed them to our friend Mason Kline to mix. I wanted us to have as little involvement in the mixing process as possible so that Mason had as much freedom to do whatever he wanted. We like Mason because he goes the crazy route without warning and often (you'll hear it in a minute).

The Plot - (PDF)

I started out by just transcribing this whole thing as it was in the original recording (here) and seeing if there was a style that fit it best, which ended up being a kind of Purdie-shuffle funk. You can see in the chart here, I added some stuff that wasn't in the original recording to try and liven it up a little bit: a "Gospel Sax Solo", a "HEAVY Drum Solo", and the ending with a chord of which I couldn't find what I wanted, hence there being three stacked on top of each other.

The "Gospel Sax Solo" was axed on the first run through because it felt gross; in other charts I get all prideful about cutting things and have a hard time, which in this instance I totally didn't because of the time. The ending we decided really quickly we wanted to end on a B7#11 or something like that. However the thing that made this chart really special was Scott's idea to make one section much much slower and much much quieter than the rest, which you can hear pretty obviously. That was a decision made on the spot in the roughly 35 minutes we had with this tune rehearsing and recording it.

Future Games - (PDF)

This chart also started out with a totally straight transcription, but stood tall in it's composition and required little to no input from us as a group or from me as an arranger (please listen to the original!). I had to change some things so that it was actually possible to play, but otherwise this is a direct read. This chart was significantly more reading for us because of the tempo changes, time signatures changes, and very specific affects of the tune. But there was one thing that was changed fairly significantly.

I've heard it said often by many people that "desperation breeds ingenuity", and the sax solo in this recording is no exception. I had transcribed the exact cadenza that was taken in the original and put it in Scott's part to record, and when he came in, he had already decided he was over that, so he was going to just do some other kind of mixolydian stuff, riffing on the chord we held out. We tried doing a take, Scott was clearly OVER IT (which was inevitable when you are recording for HOURS), and so he just started doing whatever he wanted. The result is what you hear in the recording and it's epic.


Through this whole process, I came upon a few important ideas that have been pushing my brain around a bit recently:

  • Using constraints; in this situation, was extremely deliberate. However, when I am in situations where the constraints are applied to me, I get frustrated or burn out. Do you need to be in control of these constraints to make them work for you, not against you?
  • I feel like this process has me realizing that the key to getting better at something is to do a LOT of it, regardless of how it turns out, just keep doing it. My arranging and musical fluidity is much more potent now.
  • I can trust my fellow musicians more than I think I should because THAT is where the magic happens.
  • A lot less time could be spent making decisions and a lot more time could be spent just doing it.

I personally have had an incredible time working on all of this "HELLO RAINBOW" stuff and hope I've imparted some of that excitement over to you! If you liked what you saw/read/heard, I would love for you to check out the pre-order that is currently on sale for the upcoming "HELLO RAINBOW" album, which comes with a bunch of fun perks you get for being an early supporter!

Thank you for reading and don't forget to subscribe to YamaYama on Youtube to see the rest of our ZX Spectrum covers and consider becoming a patron of YamaYama on Patreon. We are having a BLAST and would love to have you there with us!

Schenkerian Analysis of Pat Metheny's "Bright Size Life"

Title: Bright Size Life
Artists: Pat Metheny (g), Jaco Pastorius (b), Bob Moses (d)
Album: Bright Size Life

While I was at University of Oregon, I took a lot of music analysis classes, ranging from text and music to post-tonal, and got my feet wet with a few other crazy theories, including a neo-Riemannian analysis method (check out Krista Abrahamson's upcoming dissertation for more on that!). However, my favorite was Schenkerian analysis. I also didn't get it very quickly, which made it infuriating to learn (I'm usually pretty good at analysis), which I think led to it being my favorite.

From Wikipedia, Schenkerian analysis' goal is "to interpret the underlying structure of a tonal work and to help reading the score according to that structure". A very simple way to put it is that it helps you reduce music to it's most basic form (mi-re-do in the melody and I-V-I in the bass) and discover different ways that the music is internally cohesive and consistent. Tom Pankhurt's site says that this method "show[s] how music can be grouped into elaborations such as auxiliary (or neighbor) notes, passing note progressions and arpeggios" and "that these patterns are not just on the surface of the music but that they also span much larger passages." I really enjoy it from a composition and improvisation perspective because it allows you to determine and explore motivic elements in music in an extremely logical way. You can look at music in an almost three-dimensional way; the first layer being the aforementioned mi-re-do, and everything else in ascending layers of complexity or elaborations. These in turn help you identify both motives at a fundamental level you may not have noticed in the upper structure, and vice versa.

A lot of words, I know, and I would recommend checking this site out for more info and detail: http://www.schenkerguide.com/whatisschenkeriananalysis.php.

For now, I'd like to get into an analysis I did of a Pat Metheny tune. Why I chose this tune is beyond me, really, and why I chose to analyze it is also a mystery. However, I had wanted to analyze a jazz tune using this method for a while to see how it worked. It was easy to get started, too, because then I got to listen to Pat and Jaco shred, and that's great.

First, I'll post the lead sheet to the tune, and then the analyses to let you look at them:
(Download the graphs as PDF's)

Download the graphs as PDF's

If some of these things look insane, I don't blame you. I do recommend you check out that website earlier, to try and get a little deeper into the topic before proceeding. But the best way to learn to swim is to jump in, so I won't stop you either.

In this analysis I only focused on my transcription of the melody and bassline of the tune (the head) and one motivic idea I found throughout. Finding motives and their prevalence in the music is the big reason I like to analyze in this way. The motivic motion that I found compelling in this was that it was mostly based on falling groupings of notes (mainly three-note groups). I have used the symbol "∂-(x)" to signify the motive, with the (x) being the amount of descending notes in a row.

Background

There's not much to see here, besides that it follows a fairly standard form: A A B A, with the B standing alone due to it's beginning on the dominant. Looking at it this way, the music seems so simple right? The form almost follows exactly "Hot Cross Buns" if you repeat some notes. (I will now apologize to my Schenk professor for making that reference [sorry, Dr. Boss]). Also, the motive appears here, too, but considering every piece should reduce to a ∂-3, I won't count those.

Foreground

In the foreground, there are a few examples of this motive, but they don't really stand out too much more than anything else. This is usually why I start looking around in the middleground for the goodies. (we'll come back to the foreground later).

Middleground

  • As you can see in the treble line right off the bat at A1, reducing the ascending fifths at the beginning of the tune gives us a ∂-3, followed by a ∂-5, and then a ∂-4; continuing to A2, you get the same set but followed by another ∂-4. The sheer density of this descending motive in the music is what made me notice it. The melody, with few exceptions, always jumps from the bottom of that descending pattern up to the start of another one, never using an ascending pattern or a large arpeggio to get there.
  • At B, you get a ∂-5, followed by a ∂-7, which encompasses both a ∂-5 and a ∂-3 (separated due to different phrases). So now this motive nests within itself, making even larger structures.
  • At A3, you get ∂-5 followed by the grand-daddy ∂-9, encompassing a ∂-4 followed by a ∂-5.

Just looking at these motives and how they start small and begin to snowball larger and larger as the piece goes on lends credibility to why this piece feels complete: presentation of the motivic idea, and then expansion and increasing complexity (nesting) of motivic idea.

Foreground (The Reckoning)

So as we saw in the foreground, there was motivic stuff happening, but it doesn't pop or try to reveal itself within the context of the tune. We do see this same expansion/increasing complexity of the motive throughout (A1/2: ∂-3; B: ∂-4; A3: ∂-5), as well as some inversions (written as ∂'-3), where the motive goes up instead of down.
However, there is one thing in particular that I want to point out in the bass that I feel gets to the very point of thinking of this music motivically. The bass part, unlike the melody (or maybe not?), is improvised within the chordal framework. However he reveals a glimpse into what we're talking about in the beginning of A3, where he plays a ∂-3 in the very beginning, when before it's just been long tones. Did Jaco subconsciously feel this motive in rehearsing or learning this piece? Would analyzing the rest of the piece reveal this insight to be total crap? Maybe, but there is something to be said about this and how it relates to improvisation in tunes; when we're improvising, how much are we thinking about motives?; how small of an idea can constitute a motive?; does this internal consistency make certain music feel more "effective" than others?

I always have difficulty building cohesiveness into my improvisation and feel that looking at larger forms and motivic ideas can enhance an otherwise unfiltered stream of ideas, or lack thereof, as well as give me an impetus for creating ideas by working within those frameworks. What do you think?