Ear-Tickler: “Get Lucky”

It’s been a while since the last entry, so here’s something new to look at.

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, from their latest record Random Access Memories, features some wonderful groove playing from bassist Nathan East and guitar legend Nile Rodgers. Compositionally speaking, the song is pretty straight-forward, revolving around a chord progression of Bm7 – D – F#m7 – E. To create interest, the song employs various textural and melodic changes for different levels of intensity, which is really apparent in East’s bass part.

Ear-Tickler: “Frame by Frame”

For this entry, I want to talk a bit about the King Crimson song “Frame by Frame”, from 1981’s Discipline.

This album marked the debut of the band’s fourth (and longest-lived) lineup of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford (Bruford having already appeared on the mid-70s records Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red). The record also marked a very distinct change in sound for the band – less heavy, less outwardly “progressive” and showy, with more of a new-wave aesthetic (incredibly clean studio production, the Byrne-esque vocals of Belew, etc.).

Some of the sounds that characterized this lineup (especially in contrast to the oft-raucous 70s bands) are clean/clear interlocking guitar parts and a minimal use of cymbals. Musically, there is a strong gamelan influence and a sort of Reichian quality to some of the compositional devices. Many of these approaches had been tried in earlier pieces by the band, but they are laid out much more matter-of-factly in this music and “Frame by Frame” provides clear examples of some this lineup’s compositional mainstays.

The first example is a general use of polyrhythms and over-the-barline figures:

Fig. 1: Polyrhythmic, over-the-barline figures.
Fig. 1: Polyrhythmic, over-the-barline figures.

Here we have the opening riff on the recording, which features a repeating, alternate-picked pentatonic figure from Fripp. The figure is only 1.5 beats, moving against the band’s 4/4 pulse. Fripp maintains this figure, only dropping one sixteenth note to change keys with the rest of the band in the 12 bars before the main figure.

This simple polyrhythmic approach is used several times on this record and in the lineup’s later output, some examples being “Indiscipline” (the heavy riff in 5/4 against Bruford’s 4/4 groove), the intro to “Thela Hun Ginjeet” (Fripp’s 7/8 figure against Belew’s 4/4 strumming), “Discipline” (Levin’s figure against the band’s 5/4 groove), etc.

Another variation on this is where Fripp and Belew begin with the same figure and then Fripp removes the last 8th note of the figure to create different interlocking patterns:

Fig. 2: 7/4 vs 13/8

This is fairly reminiscent of Steve Reich’s phasing concept (demonstrated in pieces like “Piano Phase“, “Violin Phase”, “Drumming”, etc.), only without the actual phasing itself. This method of displacing a melodic figure by an eighth note creates a very different effect than the basic polyrhythmic approach, especially with a simple line like this. Instead of being disorienting or disguising the beat, the application here creates a perpetual texture change, and a wonderful resolution when the guitars lineup again.

To increase the amount of variations this approach can create, Fripp delays it by a bar each time the figure returns (i.e. here, before the first verse, he plays the figure as written for one bar followed by the shortened figure in the next. Before the second first, he plays the original figure for two bars, then the shorter one. At the end of the piece, he waits three bars to begin the process).

This same approach is used pretty explicitly in “Discipline” and also appears (in a slightly subtler manner) on “Waiting Man”. It also feels like a stepping stone to some of the rhythmic devices they would explore on later albums.

Check out this fantastically 80s performance of “Frame by Frame” from the Neal and Jack and Me DVD (originally released as Three of a Perfect Pair – Live in Japan).

Ear-Tickler: “To Begin”

Here’s an early entry for you guys.

One of my favourite musical discoveries as of late is British bassist Janek Gwizdala (now residing in NY). His tone and feel reminds me a lot of Rich Brown’s, he plays with some great modern guys (including Mark Guiliana and Jojo Mayer), he has a ton of great interviews and instructional videos on youtube and a great business sense to boot.

The opening track to his 2010 album The Space in Between, “To Begin”, features a really cool, laid-back bass solo. Check out my transcription here.

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While the harmony is fairly straight forward (2 bars of Cm7, 2 bars of Gm7), he keeps things interesting with some really lyrical melodies, some interesting rhythmic ideas and the occasional 16th-note burst of playing out. The first example of this happens at measure 24:

To Begin1

This is all over Gm7 and he starts off playing straight G aeolian, then steps out with some side-stepping pentatonics (in this case fo F#m) before coming back to Gm on 3 of 25. This approach comes back again at bar 45 for a super hip run over Cm7 (46/47):

To Begin3

We start the side-stepping in G#m pentatonic, then moving further out to a line that mostly stems from the E Major bop scale, then back into Gm in 48. Super cool.

Lastly, I just need to point out the crazy run at 31 which involves a lot of string skipping (entirely in 17th and 19th position) and a whole lot of chops in general.

To Begin2

If you’re into what you hear, I would recommend checking out the full album (as well as his others) which can be found here. For bonus incentive, all of his records are currently PWYC on Bandcamp, so you can effectively get all of them for free if you so choose.

Happy listening.

Ear-Tickler: “Eleven Wives”

For this entry, I wanted to talk about Avishai Cohen and his tune “Eleven Wives” from his 2008 album Gently Disturbed (which also features Mark Guiliana on drums and Shai Maestro on piano).

First of all, I really enjoy Avishai Cohen’s music. He’s a fantastic composer, an equally talented bass player (both on upright and electric) and has led some pretty heavy bands, including (especially?) the trio from this time. In some ways, Avishai was one of the artists who helped me get into jazz by showing one of the different things that jazz could be. The album prior to this one, Continuo, is one of my favourite contemporary jazz records, and I’ve posted a transcription of the title track here.

One of the standouts of Avishai’s sound, along with his unique blend of jazz and a sort of middle eastern melodic sense, is the use of “odd” meter and interesting rhythms, and “Eleven Wives” certainly demonstrates the rhythmic side.

For starters, it’s in 11/8 (divided 3/3/3/2), opening with a piano figure stating the groove:

ElevenWives1To make this even more interesting, the faster tempo (dotted quarter at around 140) creates the illusion of the figure actually being in 7/8 (2,2,2,1) with a slightly stilted last eighth. It’s not until the drums enter that the 11 is made explicit (although the title makes this a dead giveaway).

The harmony is pretty straight ahead but the rhythmic nature of the “A” melody is one of the cooler things about the piece and makes it stand out:


Rhythmically, it’s entirely independent of the groove and the accenting of the BCBCA figure does not match the accents of the accompaniment, implying a brief 4-feel. This idea is taken further in the B melody:


Although Mark keeps the same 3/3/3/2 rhythm going in the drums, I’ve outlined the way that the B melody (piano/bass) is divided into 2-beat patterns, crossing both the pulse and the barlines as if it were really one long bar of 11/2. Also note the key change and active nature of the melody to contrast the A section, which really makes it pop.

Also worth noting here that the piece is through-composed with no soloist, instead building in intensity over the duration of the tune and acting as a vehicle for Mark Guiliana to really take it to the next level by the end. If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with the song, check out this live performance on Youtube, and check out the album!


Ear-Tickler: “Gato”

Gonna try to keep a steady blog going, focusing on little bits of music that catch my attention. Here’s the first one…

One of the things most prevalent in my own music is the use of rhythm. Some of the compositions come out of elaborate attempts at rhythmic interaction, but they’re often just the result of taking a simple concept and seeing what can be done with it. This mostly stems from my interest in certain progressive rock acts, such as King Crimson (who uses a lot of rhythmic interplay very effectively… I will probably write about them in the future). One of my preferred acts on the current scene is Canadian vocalist/guitarist Devin Townsend, whose Devin Townsend Project released a series of four very distinct and exciting records between 2009 and 2011.

The DTP’s first record Ki features a song titled “Gato” which is based around this idea, a simple 7/8 figure which repeats over a 4/4 backbeat (Figure 1).

Figure 1. “Gato” groove, m. 16-20.

The way that the guitar figure inches forward by an eighth note each bar creates an interesting rhythmic rub, often obscuring where “1” falls (especially when the figure begins on a strong beat like in measure 18). Structurally, it also creates some interesting turnarounds (creating a bar of 2/4 at m.16, a bar of 3/4 at m.30, etc.) and displaced phrases, disguised by the consistent backbeat. While Devin’s vocal melody mostly plays off of the accents of the 7/8 rhythm, it occasionally lends its own rhythmic counterpoint creating a certain confusion in the music (i.e. m.22-25).

Also, the decision to include session drummer Duris Maxwell for the Ki sessions, rather than Devin’s usual metal companions, adds a lot of life to the record (especially on grooves like this which could otherwise come across as too calculated). He’s just here to hold things down and keep it nice and relaxed. The ghosted snare hits throughout the groove and overall laid-back feel give it a nice human element, and reflects what I feel are the overall themes of Ki: patience and restraint. For nearly the entire first minute of the tune, Duris stays on the hi-hat, and when he accents a hiccup in the groove with a cymbal in m.24 (Figure 2), it has a bit more impact and weight.

Figure 2.

This idea of patience/restraint is echoed through much of this tune, with the bass and second guitar not entering until m.31, just past the 1-minute mark. There is also a noted absence of distorted guitar until roughly half-way through the song, instead focusing on tone and added instrumentation to add weight to the music.

Overall, I just really like the way that Devin uses a relatively simple concept so effectively, and the way that the drums really hold it together and make the riff “pop”.

Check out my transcription of the first bit of the song here.