Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Rhythmic Architecture, part 2

In the late 40s the beboppers began moving phrases in their solos to smaller divisions of the beat. The implied double-time of sixteenth notes gave new life to ballads, and new challenge to uptempo improvisations. Charlie Parker (for one) became so adept at rapid scalar quotations that his solos would employ 32nd notes against a slow overall tempo e.g. Embracable You, Out Of Nowhere. "Bird" along with his cohorts and competitors would dash off sixteenth note phrases at tempos as fast as 210 beats per minute, even the 300bpm of Anthropology, a contrafact using the chord changes from Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. There are versions of Cherokee as fast as 360bpm where the eight notes are best thought of as 16ths at 180bpm counted in half notes -- "Diz" (Dizzy Gillespie) said "The faster the tempo, the slower you count."

In the latter half of the 50s we began to hear "soul jazz" and "funk" borrowing from the church and contemporary dance styles influenced by slower tempos with a prominent 16th note feel. And conversely, dance styles greatly affected the music -- the Chicken, Stroll, Madison, Boogaloo, Temptation Walk, Watusi, Jerk, Monkey, Dog, Philly Dog replacing swing and bop styles. Much of the 50s music still featured triplets in 12/8, but the advent of 16th note styles brought new life to jazz, r&b and pop and became a hallmark of the Soul movement that flourished from 1955 to 1975. At the height of the dance and funk music symbiosis musicians and audiences celebrated the16th note pulse as the very definition of hipness. The thoughtful use of instruments playing a little more sparsely, accenting subdivisions of the 16th, juxtaposing a 12/8 triplet feel against the duple rhythms, characterized funk and presaged refinements that appeared later in the spaciousness of Jamaican Reggae. But, unlike Reggae, the possibilities of the electric bass are exploited fully in funk and fusion. Getting busy with complex lines juxtaposed against new rhythmic textures, sophisticated syncopation, 8 beat patterns and other devices, the bass assumes a new importance in funk.

Careful listening to seminal recordings from the heyday of funk provide us with great polyrhythmic examples. And the style is not hampered by tight requirements for the role of each instrument. One of the beauties of funk influenced soul is the diversity of arrangement made possible by the often invisible but everpresent 16th note as the basic pulse. Let's look and listen to the construction of a few of the marvelous 45s produced by the progenitors of funk...

Follow Your Heart by the Manhattans came out in 1965, with a carefully arranged rhythmic background at about 97bpm. The bass is augmented with a trombone unison, they provide a pickup on beat 3 using the basic syncopation pattern of eighth - quarter - eighth. They play a two measure pattern, the an beat of 4 (eighth notes counted "1 an 2 an 3 an 4 an") acting as an anticipated down beat, a common practice. The first full measure of the pattern is empty except for a single eighth on the an of 4 followed by 3 eighths "1 an 2" and the original pickup "3 an__ (4) an___". Actually, the last pick up note on the an of 4 is tied to a quarter on beat 1, bar 1 of the pattern. It might be better better to notate these rhythms rather than use the verbal description -- but the goal is to understand the architecture, and since it's funk we're talking about -- where are the sixteenth notes?

Follow Your Heart has a piano playing eighths instead of the old doo-wop triplets. The pianist fades in and out of the overall rhythm to allow accents from other instruments. In the intro there's a vibraphone that accents the backbeat on 2, then provides pickups to measure 2, starting with the an of 3, "an 4 an 1 an" coinciding with bass/bone on the first two eighths of measure 2, tastefully laying out on the backbeat of 2 in bar 2 of the 8 beat pattern. There's a "stutter" effect in the kick drum with some variation but usually emphasizing "1 an" plus the an of 3, and a pickup to the next measure on (4) an. Snare backbeat on 2, tambourine on 4. The chording rhythm guitar gets the backbeat on 2 but is most noticeable with a sixteenth note on the "e" of 3 (count "3 e an a" -- or "shook-a-took-a"), or it might be a triplet figure. There's another guitar playing single note eighths -- maybe it's just the incredible taste of a single guitarist. There is some room for individuality in these background parts, but everyone sticks pretty close to their assignment. The implied 16th note pulse is the unifying factor, and this can be heard in occasional departures from the basic patterns.

Here's a short list of some classic r&b, with a thumbnail sketch calling your attention to the architectural level of different instruments, and the exceptional rhythmic insight of the musicians on these seminal funk recordings:

Shoot Your Shot - Jr. Walker & The All Stars     113bpm -- guitar pattern 1 an 2 an 3 e an a 4 an, organ on 2 & 4, bass at the eighth note level (playing "up to the 1"), 16ths on the hi-hat.

Your Love (Means Everything To Me) - Charles Wright & The 103rd Street Band   94bpm -- snare drum is on 1 2 3 4, the kick drum does the accenting (3) an (4) an with some variation. Rhythm guitar has 16ths "1 e an a 2" rest 4. Saxes hint at triplet rhythms with their liquid pattern, punches are on 1 an with a subtle pickup an the "a" of 4 preceding.

I Got Love - Charles Wright & The 103rd Street Band  102bpm -- drum hi-hat has 16ths, snare is free to accent when not playing 2 and 4 per arrangement. The bass is so percussive that the kick drum seems absent. Rhythm guitar "2 e an a" accenting a 16th before the traditional backbeat of 3, and then next measure "2 e an" leaving out the last note, at least in the groove portion, not the arranged passages.

Southern Part of Texas - War (live on SoulTrain)  114bpm -- bass at the 16th note level, organ basically eighths but spicing things up with 16th punches and pickups. The conga is free to move between quarters, eighths and 16ths, horns play strict eighths alternated with a smoother phrase that hints at a quarter note triplet feel. There's so much going on that the drummer pretty much sticks to the backbeat on 2 and 4. There are arranged sections, too!

Rhythmic opportunities multiply when the basic pulse moves up to the 16th note level! Please visit my Funk Now blog at for more selected r&b funk masterpieces from Charles Wright -- soon to be followed by highlighted short discographies from other geniuses of the genre such as War, Junior Walker, Sly Stone and some of the unsung heroes and one-hit wonders you will enjoy remembering or learning about. And this blog will conclude the 3 part series on Rhythm as Architecture in a week or two with some helpful hints for rhythm sections, engineers and producers.

No comments: