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Byron Miller: Reach For It by Alex Wilkerson

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Meet Alex Wilkerson

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Reach_For_It_Part_1-Feb2010

This issue’s transcription is the bass solo by Byron Miller on George Duke’s Album: Reach For It. This piece is a great source of ideas for crafting a funky solo, keeping a long solo interesting, and gaining some great pentatonic licks, but most importantly of all, it’s a lesson in phrasing. Any of us who have studied blues greats like B.B. King and Albert King, just to name a few, know how a “simple” four or five note solo can become amazing and complex with the application of masterful phrasing. You have to admit that these guys have proven that phrasing is more important than notes in terms of Blues, R&B, and Funk soloing. Even in the setting where as many notes as possible are crammed into a solo, we must admit that good phrasing is what makes a lot of these notes possible. That being said, the main focus of your study on this transcript should be phrasing. In this article we’ll talk about different licks that appear in the piece, different patterns to use over a scale in your practice and solos, and some techniques that Byron has used.

Before diving too deep though, let’s take some time and talk about some of the notation in this transcript that may be a little confusing. Byron employs a fair amount of bends and playing “outside” the time, and this can make a transcription really challenging. If you look at the pickup bar at the very beginning of the solo you will see what looks like an upside down “V” over two notes. This means that these notes should be played short, but not as short as a staccato. You can just think somewhere in the middle of the road between as short and possible and long. Next in measure one you will see a line trailing off the note. Any line falling from, or rising to a note means that a slide is needed. If it’s falling off a note, then slide down (in sound) with no particular ending note of the slide; just a quick slide. The same applies to the “approaching” slide. There should be no clearly defined starting note of the slide, just a simple slide into the note.

Ok, now onto grace notes and bends. Check out the down beat of four in measure two. This upside down “V” that ties one note to another is a bend. When a single bend occurs, there are two notes involved. One is the note you start from and the other is where you end up. Usually one of these notes is more important than the other. The grace note (tiny note) will tell you this. A grace note is played quickly and doesn’t last long. If both notes get equal weight, then there will be no grace note at all but rather two normal notes. Pre-bends are where you bend the string first, play the note, then release the bend while the note is ringing. This technique can be seen in measure seven. The grace note that doesn’t have a stem and is inside parenthesis is the fret that your left hand should be on. In this case you would be playing a “D” and I would recommend playing this on the 12th fret of the D string. You would then bend this “D” up to an “Eb” before playing the string, then play it and release the bend back down to a “D”. The last symbol that needs explaining is the trill. It looks like a squiggly line as in measure six on beat one. This can be played either as an intense vibrato (moving your finger back and forth but staying in the fret) or as a quick repetitive slide between the starting note and one fret up. This should be performed as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s move on to the licks that you can take from this transcription. Look at measure six. This lick starts at the “a” of three (three, e, and, a) through the end of beat four: C, D, A, C, D. With this lick you start somewhere on the scale (A minor pentatonic in this case), go up one note, then start one note below your starting point and ascend three notes. This lick reoccurs on the “a” of beat one in measure 14, on the down beat of one in measure 27, and the lick occurs “upside down” on the down beat of measure 16. Play these four parts to find the pattern. Lick two is a 16th triplet descending on the minor pentatonic scale and ending on flat three. You can see this lick on the “and” of two in measure three, and on the “and” of one in measure nine, and on the “and” of two in measure 16. The next lick we’ll cover here is the use of six 16th triplets ascending up the minor pentatonic scale. You can see this on the down beat of two in measure five, the “and” of two in measure 6, the “and” of three in measure 17 and a partial in the beginning of measure 20. The last lick is a sweet “jazzy” lick in measure 25. Because of its speed, in the right environment this lick will work on either dominants or minor chords. It contains major and minor thirds but each pass so fast that it really would still work on both. Also try this lick from the one and five of the key.

Now let’s talk about some scale patterns that we can take from this solo. What I mean by pattern is a short motif or concept that can be used over any scale. The first one we’ll talk about occurs on the “and” of three in measure nine. For our discussion I will refer to the major scale by the numbers 1-8. The pattern ascending would be: 1, 2, 1, 3; 2, 3, 2, 4; 3, 4, 3, 5; 4, 5, 4, 6, etc. Also practice this idea descending: 8, 7, 8, 6; 7, 6, 7, 5, etc. Next take a look at the “a” of four in measure 27 and stop on the note “A”. By the numbers, this pattern would look like this: 1, 2, 4, 3; 2, 3, 5, 4; 3, 4, 6, 5, etc. Then of course we should take this descending: 8, 7, 5, 6; 7, 6, 4, 5, etc.

Lastly, let’s discuss a few soloing concepts from this piece. First look at how many phrases are started on the down beat of one. Out of all the phrases only three start on the down beat of one. If you are finding that you begin a lot of your phrases on one, you can just wait an eighth or sixteenth and your phrases are twice as hip. Another great technique here is to play “outside” of the time. To do this you must have a firm grasp on time and a solid internal groove. You can tell when someone doesn’t have good time because when they step out it sounds lame; they aren’t fooling anyone. You can practice this with the scale patterns I gave you above. Practice them with a metronome and when you feel confident, take it out of time a little but bring it back in.

You can see that through the piece, Byron was thinking mostly “A” minor pentatonic instead of chord to chord (chord scales). This technique is very appropriate to the style and it should be noted that this was a conscious choice on the part of Byron and not because he is incapable of playing from chord to chord. Look at his lick in measure 25, his Dorian hints in measures 21 and 22 and how he superimposes a minor triad from the major sixth (F#) ending that lick on the 9. This should state clearly that staying in “A” minor pentatonic is more desirable in this setting as opposed to cramming in endless chord scales and chromatic passing tones. Funk and R&B are more about feel and groove than heady cerebral jazz, which is great too, but the lesson here is to ask yourself what the intention of the song might be? If the song’s intention is soul, then the main focus of your solo should be soul, if it’s cerebral sophistication, then that should be your focus. If the point of the song is to get people to shake their booty, then your solo should make every booty in the room start to shake. In this way you will add the most to the song and not get fired for being inappropriate.

I hope you enjoyed this edition’s selection. I’ll bring you the rest next time, but as you can see there is lot of work to be done here and a lot to be gained. Remember that your focus on this transcription should be phrasing and feel. Enjoy, and see you next time.

Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes

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Interview With Bassist Erick Jesus Coomes

Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes…

It is always great to meet a super busy bassist who simply exudes a love for music and his instrument. Erick “Jesus” Coomes fits this description exactly. Hailing from Southern California, “Jesus” co-founded and plays bass for Lettuce and has found his groove playing with numerous other musicians.

Join us as we hear of his musical journey, how he gets his sound, his ongoing projects, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Bob Forte

Visit Online

www.lettucefunk.com
IG @jesuscsuperstar
FB@jesuscoomes
FB @lettucefunk

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Working-Class Zeros: Episode #2 – Financial Elements of Working Musicians

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WORKING-CLASS ZEROS With Steve Rosati and Shawn Cav

Working-Class Zeros: Episode #2 – Financial Elements of Working Musicians

These stories from the front are with real-life, day-to-day musicians who deal with work life and gigging and how they make it work out. Each month, topics may include… the kind of gigs you get, the money, dealing with less-than-ideal rooms, as well as the gear you need to get the job done… and the list goes on from there.” – Steve the Bass Guy and Shawn Cav

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @foderaguitars @overwaterbasses @mgbassguitars @bqwbassguitar @marleaux_bassguitars @sugi_guitars @mikelullcustomguitars @ramabass.ok @chris_seldon_guitars @gullone.bajos

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Bass CDs

New Album: Jake Leckie, Planter of Seeds

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Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

Bassist Jake Leckie and The Guide Trio Unveil New Album Planter of Seeds,
to be released on June 7, 2024

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

What are we putting in the ground? What are we building? What is the village we want to bring our children up in? At the core of the ensemble is The Guide Trio, his working band with guitarist Nadav Peled and drummer Beth Goodfellow, who played on Leckie’s second album, The Guide, a rootsy funky acoustic analog folk-jazz recording released on Ropeadope records in 2022. For Planter of Seeds, the ensemble is augmented by Cathlene Pineda (piano), Randal Fisher (tenor saxophone), and Darius Christian (trombone), who infuse freedom and soul into the already tightly established ensemble.

Eight original compositions were pristinely recorded live off the floor of Studio 3 at East West Studios in Hollywood CA, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. The cover art is by internationally acclaimed visual artist Wayne White. Whereas his previous work has been compared to Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet with Charlie Haden, Leckie’s new collection sits comfortably between the funky odd time signatures of the Dave Holland Quintet and the modern folk-jazz of the Brian Blade Fellowship Band with a respectful nod towards the late 1950s classic recordings of Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis.

The title track, “Planter of Seeds,” is dedicated to a close family friend, who was originally from Trinidad, and whenever she visited family or friends at their homes, without anyone knowing, she would plant seeds she kept in her pocket in their gardens, so the next season beautiful flowers would pop up. It was a small altruistic anonymous act of kindness that brought just a little more beauty into the world. The rhythm is a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, who we also lost around the same time, and whose theme song Poinciana is about a tree from the Caribbean.

“Big Sur Jade” was written on a trip Leckie took with his wife to Big Sur, CA, and is a celebration of his family and community. This swinging 5/4 blues opens with an unaccompanied bass solo, and gives an opportunity for each of the musicians to share their improvisational voices. “Clear Skies” is a cathartic up-tempo release of collective creative energies in fiery improvisational freedom. “The Aquatic Uncle” features Randal Fisher’s saxophone and is named after an Italo Calvino short story which contemplates if one can embrace the new ways while being in tune with tradition. In ancient times, before a rudder, the Starboard side of the ship was where it was steered from with a steering oar. In this meditative quartet performance, the bass is like the steering oar of the ensemble: it can control the direction of the music, and when things begin to unravel or become unhinged, a simple pedal note keeps everything grounded.

The two trio tunes on the album are proof that the establishment of his consistent working band The Guide Trio has been a fruitful collaboration. “Santa Teresa”, a bouncy samba-blues in ? time, embodies the winding streets and stairways of the bohemian neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro it is named for. The swampy drum feel on “String Song” pays homage to Levon Helm of The Band, a group where you can’t always tell who wrote the song or who the bandleader is, proving that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Early jazz reflected egalitarianism in collective improvisation, and this group dynamic is an expression of that kind of inclusivity and democracy.

“The Daughters of the Moon” rounds out the album, putting book ends on the naturalist themes. This composition is named after magical surrealist Italo Calvino’s short story about consumerism, in which a mythical modern society that values only buying shiny new things throws away the moon like it is a piece of garbage and the daughters of the moon save it and resurrect it. It’s an eco-feminist take on how women are going to save the world. Pineda’s piano outro is a hauntingly beautiful lunar voyage, blinding us with love. Leckie dedicates this song to his daughter: “My hope is that my daughter becomes a daughter of the moon, helping to make the world a more beautiful and verdant place to live.”

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Bass CDs

Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

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Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

In a thrilling solo debut, bassist Nate Sabat combines instrumental virtuosity with a songwriter’s heart on Bass Fiddler

The upright bass and the human voice. Two essential musical instruments, one with roots in 15th century Europe, the other as old as humanity itself. 

On Bass Fiddler (Adhyâropa Records ÂR00057), the debut album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and bass virtuoso Nate Sabat, the scope is narrowed down a bit. Drawing from the rich and thriving tradition of American folk music, Sabat delivers expertly crafted original songs and choice covers with the upright bass as his lone tool for accompaniment. 

The concept was born a decade ago when Sabat began studying with the legendary old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky at Berklee College of Music. “One of Bruce’s specialties is singing and playing fiddle at the same time. The second I heard it I was hooked,” recalls Sabat. “I thought, how can I do this on the bass?” From there, he was off to the races, arranging original and traditional material with Molsky as his guide. “Fast forward to 2020, and I — like so many other musicians — was thinking of how to best spend my time. I sat down with the goal of writing some new songs and arranging some new covers, and an entire record came out.” When the time came to make the album, it was evident that Molsky would be the ideal producer. Sabat asked him if he’d be interested, and luckily he was. “What an inspiration to work with an artist like Nate,” says Molsky. “Right at the beginning, he came to this project with a strong, personal and unique vision. Plus he had the guts to try for a complete and compelling cycle of music with nothing but a bass and a voice. You’ll hear right away that it’s engaging, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and beautifully thought out from top to bottom.” 

While this record is, at its core, a folk music album, Sabat uses the term broadly. Some tracks lean more rock (‘In the Shade’), some more pop (‘White Marble’, ‘Rabid Thoughts’), some more jazz (‘Fade Away’), but the setting ties them all together. “There’s something inherently folksy about a musician singing songs with their instrument, no matter the influences behind the compositions themselves,” Sabat notes. To be sure, there are plenty of folk songs (‘Louise’ ‘Sometimes’, ‘Eli’) and fiddling (‘Year of the Ox’) to be had here — the folk music fan won’t go hungry. There’s a healthy dose of bluegrass too (‘Orphan Annie’, ‘Lonesome Night’), clean and simple, the way Mr. Bill Monroe intended. 

All in all, this album shines a light on an instrument that often goes overlooked in the folk music world, enveloping the listener in its myriad sounds, textures, and colors. “There’s nothing I love more than playing the upright bass,” exclaims Sabat. “My hope is that listeners take the time to sit with this album front to back — I want them to take in the full scope of the work. I have a feeling they’ll hear something they haven’t heard before.”

Available online at natesabat.bandcamp.com/album/walking-away

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