by Michael Lazarus
As I mentioned in the introductory article of this series, my objective
is to present to you, the BMM community, several approaches used in
contemporary Cuban dance music (timba) for creating clave-based bass
movement. Our first targets of analysis are the mayor trends in the
bass work of Joel Domínguez on Paulito F.G.’s classic timba album Con La Conciencia Tranquila. The album has been discontinued but it is available as a digital download on www.LatinPulseMusic.com.
CON LA CONCIENCIA TRANQUILA – BASS – Audio tracks 2 & 3
Tune your bass to an A 440Hz with Audio Track 1.
Listen to the bass & piano montuno with Audio Track 2.
Listen to the bass & piano montuno variation with Audio Track 3.
Several key concepts are revealed by placing rumba clave directly below
the main bass movement for the opening and title track of Con La Conciencia Tranquila.
While this is not the typical way of notating clave, it is displayed in
this manner to vertically align each beat. Notice that the chords are
NOT displayed. This is not the type of music where you play ‘tumbao’
through chord changes. Note selection is secondary to the rhythm and
its relation to clave.
TIP: Tracks 2 & 3 have the
exact same bass movement playing against two different piano parts. For
those who like to play with the audio immediately, start your practice
with Track 3, as Track 2 is extremely tricky because it’s easy to lose
the 1, being that the piano part is harmonically displaced. On the
actual album, the piano movement of Track 2 opens the song and the
piano on Track 3 appears later, during the bomba section of the tune.
These same piano tumbaos will be covered in our upcoming timba piano
The bass concepts here literally set the tone for the rest of
the album. There are several key strategies used to emphasize selected
beats within the clave. Before explaining these, first notice the
general trend, the duality of the movement. The standard salsa bass
movement, commonly known as tumbao, can be classified as a
clave-neutral pattern, where the same rhythm is present for both sides
of the clave. The bass movement for Con La Conciencia Tranquila
is more ‘clavefied’, with the 2-side landing downbeats and the 3-side
throwing upbeats, following the fundamental tendency of the clave
Example of clave-nuetral tumbao
The first strategy to express this rhythmic duality in a bass movement
is to selectively place the 1. As the 1 is the main beat, its very
presence, paired with its absence in other measures, is a clear
giveaway of a clavefied musical passage. Notice how the 1 is played on
the 2-sides and absent on the 3-sides.
Selectively placing the “1”
The second, and in my view more
effective, strategy to express the rhythmic duality is to stress the
notes of the 2-side of clave; the backbeat (the second stroke of the
2-side) and the slap (the first stroke of the 2-side, which corresponds
to the slap on the conga). The key here is to leave space in the beat
following the note you stress. Notice how, in the following example,
there is a rest immediately after each highlighted note.
Bass movement with 2-side alignment
Playing on the bombo, the ‘and of 2’
or middle note of the 3-side, is part of the traditional bass tumbao
and remains an integral part of a clave-based movement. In this example
notice that bombo is present in the first measure. However that note is
a set-up note, functioning the same way pick-up notes do at the
beginning of a song, leading to a hard quarter note on the backbeat of
the first 2-side.
Playing on the “bombo”
The traditional clave-neutral tumbao
locks in with the most important open tone played by the conga, the
ponche, or beat 4. By NOT playing this note on the 2-side, and at the
same time, leading up to it with a series of upbeats on the 3-side, you
are not only clavefying but funkifying the bass movement in a way
reminiscent of 1960’s Motown. Notice how rumba clave offsets the last
note of the 3-side to the and-of-4.
Leading up to the ponche (with upbeats)
In the next issue’s segment I’ll analyze
some other tracks on the album to show reinforcement of these mayor
trends. Stay tuned mi gente.
– Audio tracks used by permission from Pyrale Music.
Transcriptions used by permission from Kevin Moore, editor-in-chief of http://www.TIMBA.com
– Article excerpts from TIMBA Style Bass Vol.1, an eBook I published on www.latinpulsemusic.com
– All content ©2009 Michael P. Lazarus