Recently, a heard a young band playing this beautiful Kenny Wheeler tune…
One of my favourites! The band played it very well, although there was one thing I found very strange. The feel of this piece is very 9/8, although it also could be thought of as triplets in 3/4. The rhythm section I heard, however, was tending to play this feel as a Jazz Waltz, especially during the blowing. Now, this isn't necessarily wrong, but it is sort of discounting all the great sort of feel/atmosphere info contained in the tune. ( Check out the intro/bass line. The 9/8 starts from the first note). Also, with this tune, playing more off the triplets in the bar can fill in some of the gaping holes that are created if we're just playing off the quarter notes. Again, obviously one can play a tune anyway one wants, but if we ignore the song's information without some sort of concept behind it, we lose all the things that make the composition unique…….
Let's look at another example…..
It's a Bossa Nova, and if we listen to it, the currency of 8th notes is everywhere! The guitar is comping off of all the 8th notes in the bar while the drummer usually plays all of them! This results in a nice smooth, sensuous feel. Yet I often hear drummers playing quarter note or very broken up 8th note grooves at this tempo. For a player with any amount of experience, playing all the 8th notes in the bar isn't much of a technical challenge. So why break up the 8ths without a good reason to do so? I think we sometimes feel that breaking up the rhythm is the "hip" thing to do, but often the hippest thing to do is to really commit to the rhythmic currency of the tune, whether it's 8th note, 16th, swing, or shuffle. Let the music help you have a strong concept for a tune that helps you make it unique, and as always, have fun!