Thursday, March 1, 2012

Smatter? Dontcha like Jazz?

Today we're going to look at 2 performances of Kenny Wheeler's "Smatter".
The first is from his great album Gnu High which features Dave Holland, DeJohnette and in his last appearance as a sideman, Keith Jarrett.

There have been some very good posts lately, particularly on Cruise Ship Drummer about the so called ECM feel. I will add a couple of elements of this type of playing as my 2 cents on the subject as they come up in this post.

One of the elements of "modern" time keeping is the concept that we're using the whole drum kit.
Notice how even during the head of this tune, Jack switches cymbals or gets off the metal completely sometimes and just focuses on drum sounds yet this never sounds arbitrary.
One of the ways Jack creates variety in this situation is the amount of space he leaves.
Notice how after the in head (played 2Xs after the rubato intro without the bass and drums) he starts playing more half notes and letting the cymbals ring more rather than playing every quarter note on them. This is a great way of signaling that the melody is over and the trumpet solo has started. Jack has been quoted as saying that he feels the cymbals are like the sustain pedals on a piano, and that we don't necessarily have to play every quarter note on the cymbal to feel the pulse. This performance certainly demonstrates that. He also uses the splashed hi-hat sound to allow him to explore lots of drum textures in his time keeping.
After leaving the space at the end of chorus 2, (This is also a great example of using figures from the head to delineate the solo form as well.) Jack and Dave start some serious 4, thus increasing the energy and excitement. ( Although this could be typically called a "broken swing" type of tune, the swing feel is played pretty straight 8th, and lends itself to broken phrasing on any sort of 8th note ideas on the cymbal.) They keep this up for all of chorus 3 and 4, then start "gearing down" by breaking up the feel again in chorus 5 tapering off Kenny's solo beautifully and leaving lots of space and a lower volume to start Jarrett's solo.
Notice how during the 1st chorus of piano, Jack pretty well keeps time on every one of his cymbals at some point.
By the 3rd chorus, Jack is sort of playing in 4 while Dave Holland still is playing of a more broken 2, then on the next chorus they play in 4 together. When we get to chorus 5 Dave Holland is clearly still in 4 while Jack opens up the feel more by leaving more spaces and getting off of the cymbals more. By the end of the chorus both bass and drums are playing more open.

I think this also demonstrates that in this style it isn't always as simple as both bass and drums play in 2, and then both go to 4. Notice how the rhythm section as a unit creates these peaks and valleys in the music but aren't always necessarily doing the same thing at the same time.
When I was at Banff for the Jazz program, Dave Holland use to talk a lot about how the rhythm section could create "counterpoint' by playing like this.

Okay, here's another great version of this tune with a completely different band...

Now I won't do a play by play like I did with the first version but I encourage you to check out both versions and note how they're different. Do you like one more than the other? Why?
How are the arrangements different?
I will say I love Erskine's recovery when he thinks the out head is going to be rubato and it turns out it's not.

One of the great things about Kenny Wheeler's music is how many different visions of it it can sustain.
I remember when Erskine started appearing on his recordings I found it a real departure from DeJohnette's approach and found it quite shocking at first. Same when he made some recordings with Joe LaBarbera. I love all these drummer's approach equally now (as well as the not nearly well known enough Bill Elgart on "Flutter by, Butterfly"). It just proves again that all great drummers carry a whole universe with them!

Beware the ides of March!!!!!

1 comment:

  1. "Et '2-feel', Brute?"
    Thanks, great addition to the Cruise Ship Drummer post.