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Beyond Salsa: The Bass and Piano in Contemporary Cuban Dance Music

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The Latin Pulse with Michael Lazarus: Beyond Salsa: Interaction Between The Bass and Piano in Contemporary Cuban Dance Music

Meet Michael Lazarus

One of the great things about playing timba is that you get the chance to play in a band with multiple drummers. A typical configuration for the rhythm section is bass and piano, congas, timbales and drumset. As a bassist this liberates you because all the subdivisions within the beat are already being articulated by the percussion -so you get to decide which ones to highlight or feature for each particular song. This means you can play off the kick drum part, the whole kit, the timbale part or the congas.  Unlike many types of North American music (rock n’ roll, pop, soul, etc.), where the bass and kick drum are expected to lock with each other as a fundamental part of the groove, in Cuban music the kick drum is an independent voice. One of the funkiest aspects of a timba groove is hearing the kick drum punching through the holes of the bass movement.

While salsa bassists have a standardized, repetitive bombo-ponche (and of 2 and 4) bass movement, which the dancers use as a metronome to count their dance steps, timba bass movement plays off the clave in all kinds of ingenious and different ways (read my first three articles here on BMM). To go off on a tangent for a second, in my opinion this is part of the reason salsa dancers have such a hard time making a transition to Cuban style social dancing, as they are not following the clave per se and use the bass as a crutch.  As Yorgis confirmed in the last article, timba bass can be thought of the art creating of clave based, melodic loops over a specific harmonic progression.

…..which brings us to the piano. If you are playing timba in band you’ll quickly realize that the old school, traditional piano montunos only go so far, and a whole different concept is needed to play up to par with your bass and percussion matrix. Your bass groove is integrated harmonically with the piano and h or she is the one filling the spaces you selectively leave. Hip your piano chair to this with a new series of instructional piano books called Beyond Salsa Piano. It covers the history of Cuban piano movement from the 1910’s all the way to the 80’s (Volumes 1-4) and then beyond salsa into the Cuban timba revolution (Volume 5). In this article we’ll work off excerpts from Volumes 6 & 7, which cover the individual style of Iván “Melón” Lewis. A legend in Cuba, Mr. Lewis is still relatively unknown but in my opinion perhaps the greatest keyboard genius in the history of Latin dance music.

Before taking a listen to the following audio samples, please note that they are stereo separated. The Alaín Pérez bass part is on the right and the Melón piano part is on the left. Use your balance control on your stereo to isolate each channel.

Here we go….

Volume 6 – La Vida Sin Esperanza

Download the audio sample here – la-vida-sin-esperanza-bass

Download the piano transcription here (BSP-Vol6-LaVida)

The bass movement of La Vida Sin Esperanza contains all the trends we previously discussed -heavy downbeats on the 20-side, emphasis on the second stroke of the 3-side, omission of the 1 on the 3-side- and the piano shadows the 1-2-3 movement of the first three quarter notes. Here is the first clue to why the old school salsa approach won’t work. To lock in with the bass (and percussion) the pianist has to essentially memorize the piano part like a classical piece, play it note for note, and understand that it’s a riff that belongs with this specific song. There are more sophisticated approaches to the piano parts like “theme and variations” and “controlled improvisation” but that lies outside the scope of this article (read the Beyond Salsa Piano books).

Volume 7 – Luz Viajera

Download the audio sample here (luz-viajera-bass)

Download the piano transcription here (BSP-Vol7-Luz)

Here in Luz Viajera the bass emphasizes the first stroke of the 2-side of clave (measures 1 and 3). Its cool that the piano leaves a hole for the first quarter note of the phrase. In general the piano ride provides counterpoint to the bass movement.  The and-of-three of the third measure (G minor) is another very interesting place where the piano and bass lock, or the piano goes off into variations.

For both these tunes and for the style in general, the bass movement has a stock theme over the chord changes and then spins off into variations. I hope I’ve spiked your interest enough to play these examples through with your fellow pianist. Cheers.

Credits:

–       Audio tracks and transcriptions used by permission from Kevin Moore, editor-in-chief of http://www.TIMBA.com and author of the Beyond Salsa Piano series of instructional books.

–       All content ©2010 Michael P. Lazarus

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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 @zonguitars @shukerbassguitars @bite.guitars @adamovicbasses @mayonesguitars @bassbros.uk @capursoguitars @overwaterbasses @saitiasguitars @ramabass.ok

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

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New Gear: Elrick Bass Guitars Headless Series

New from Elrick Bass Guitars, Headless Series added to Custom Lineup…

Elrick Bass Guitars is excited to announce the addition of a headless option on hand-carved series bass guitars. Initially previewed on the 2023 Gold Series SLC MkII bass of prolific solo bass practitioner and educator Steve Lawson, a headless bass option is now available to all. According the Elrick, “The excitement surrounding Steve’s MkII SLC bass at 2024 NAMM confirmed that the time is right to add a headless option to our extensive range of custom options.” To date, Elrick instruments have only been offered with traditional headstock construction but, in response to market demand, custom features will now include a headless option in 4-, 5- and 6-string models.

Headless bass guitars share these features with the traditional headstock series:

24 frets + zero fret
exotic wood top
hand-rubbed oil finish
2-way adjustable truss rod
custom Bartolini pickups
custom Bartolini 3-band preamp
fully shielded control cavity
Hipshot bridge
Dunlop Straploks
Elrick Fundamental strings

The headless option can now be selected when submitting custom order requests via the form on elrick.com, contacting the Elrick Sales Office directly, or working with your favorite Elrick dealer.

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

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Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)

Bruegel Masterpiece (1565) Inspires BITE Masterpiece (2023)…

Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel the Elder probably had many things in mind when painting his Hunters in the Snow in oil on oak wood in 1565. This masterpiece tells plenty of little stories about winterly pastimes and precarious livelihoods in the Early Modern Age. What Bruegel presumably did not have in mind was that this painting would, several centuries later, become one of the most popular ones in fine arts globally, displayed in a permanent exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) Vienna. The painting’s popularity was lately taken to a different level as it was replicated by hand to design an exclusive BITE bass.

An international art collector and bass player who regularly visits Vienna to immerse himself in the wonderworld of Kunsthistorisches’ Bruegel Hall asked BITE to replicate the painting on a bass body. BITE Guitars, an Austrian premium manufacturer exporting most of their basses to the US, has become renowned for colorful artwork basses, offering a range of manual and digital techniques. The firm’s art director Peter, a trained scenic painter of Oscar and Palme d’Or rank, specializes in photo-realistic reproductions. He also painted the bass for Robbie Williams’ 2023 world tour by faithfully replicating Robbie’s own stage design onto the tour bass.

Peter copied the Bruegel motif onto the bass body in minute detail, little twigs even by one-hair-brush. Positioning the rectangular image section on the body shape proved to be a special challege that he met by repositioning little elements, a bird here, a horse and cart there.

It all came together in a memorable video shooting in front of the original painting in the Museum’s Bruegel Hall: venerable fine arts, premium handicraft and groovy jazz tunes.

View video at the museum: www.youtube.com/shorts/2evdqfR6gUE

What’s the conclusion of BITE’s client, our Vienna, art and bass lover? “It’s a magical bass! When I touch the strings, I feel warm inside.”

Specs highlights:
Bass model: BITE Evening Star, the proprietary BITE premium model with inward curved horns
Pickups: 2 x BITE 1000 millivolt passive split-coils (PP)
Neck: roasted maple neck and roasted flamed maple fretboard

Price tag incl. insured door-to-door express shipping:
New York: 4726 USD
London: 3645 GBP
Berlin: 4965 EUR

Full specs available at bite.guitars/old-master-bass/

Bruegel Hall at Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: 
khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/the-best-of-bruegel-only-in-vienna/

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

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Interview With Bassist Ciara Moser

Bassist Ciara Moser…

Ciara and I sat down for this interview a few months after the launch of her debut album, “Blind. So what?”

Blind since birth, she is a powerhouse of talent; she is not only a professional bassist, but also composes music, and is a producer and educator. I am just blown away by her talent and perseverance.

Join me as we hear about Ciara’s musical journey, the details of her album, how she gets her sound, and her plans for the future.

Visit online:

www.ciara-moser.com 
IG @ moserciara
FB @ ciara.moser

Photos by Manuela Haeussler

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Gear News

New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

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New Gear: Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar

Black Ice Boost and Distort, Battery-Free Modules for Bass and Guitar…

Black Ice Enterprises introduces Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort, small, battery-free devices that can be easily installed in a bass or guitar.

Black Ice Boost offers two selectable stages of up to 7 dB of boost, broadly concentrated in the midrange frequencies to add humbucker-like qualities to Strat®, Tele® and other types of single-coil pickups. Black Ice Distort is an overdrive module that can be configured to offer anything from slight overdrive to distortion. Both models are compatible with all passive guitar pickups and electronics (they’re not compatible with battery-powered active pickups).

Black Ice Boost (SRP: $119.95; MAP, $79.95) can be installed using several wiring options, including a simple “stealth” install that utilizes a single push-pull pot, and a dual-switch option that allows users to select between two different levels of boost. For those using the boost along with Black Ice Distort, a second push-pull pot or switch can be used to select a clean or distorted boost.

The Black Ice Boost module is approximately 2/3 the size of a 9-volt battery, and can be easily installed in most instruments with no routing or permanent modifications required. The tone of the instrument remains completely unaffected when the boost is bypassed.

In addition to use with popular single-coil pickups, Black Ice Boost can also be used with other pickup types. Use it to fatten up a P-90 style pickup, or add girth to a low-wind humbucker. Jazz Bass® players can use the additional midrange content provided by Black Ice Boost to produce a sound that’s reminiscent of a P-Bass® or soapbar-type pickup. Black Ice Boost is not recommended for use with high-output humbuckers and other dark-sounding pickups.

Black Ice Distort (SRP: $27.95; MAP, $21.95) is an overdrive module that can be configured for just a touch of grit, or a more aggressive grind, all the way to a 1960’s-flavored fuzz. While its battery-free circuit will never replace the more refined sound of a well-designed pedal, it provides handy, there-when-you-need-it access to a variety of fun old-school flavors, and is a great way to add additional textures to an already overdriven amp or pedal. Bass players will especially dig its raw dirty grind.

Like Black Ice Boost, the sugar-cube-sized Black Ice Distort provides a lifetime of tone with no maintenance or power source required. A variety of wiring options are included that let you activate the Distort via a switch or push-pull pot, or by easily converting your guitar’s tone control into a control for the Black Ice Distort circuit. It can be used in conjunction with the Black Ice Boost for a wide variety of useful tones.

Black Ice Boost and Black Ice Distort are now shipping.

Visit online at www.blackiceoverdrive.com

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