Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting Back to an Old Hobby - Part 2 (Concepts)

The last time I really did any recording was in high school or part of college. I came up with some riffs, recorded bits and pieces of ideas that I wanted to put together, that sort of thing. Mostly it just emulated whatever I was listening to at the time without any growth. I was making things without really creating anything. Nothing new or unique. As Miles Davis would say, it was "like warmed-over turkey."

Since getting the playback aspect of the audio lab set up (namely Alesis 100W power amp with  Monitor One Mk2 studio monitor speakers) I've been going through and listening to a lot of tunes. I've been thinking a lot about what I personally like to hear, and stylistic concepts from a variety of places which I can pull together to make something a bit more my own. I'd say I'm reaching a point where I'm a little more comfortable in knowing what I want.

We'll start off with the 10,000 foot view. Broadly speaking, jazz and hip hop have been two main genres I can really get into. I still enjoy putting on some Nirvana or Deftones from time to time, but it doesn't get into my creative vein as much. There is also some good ambient and downtempo electronica that really catches me, but that's more an accessory to the two aforementioned genres. Jazz and hip hop have a one-way link for the most part. Obviously one preceded the other, and there are certainly a number of hip hop tracks which sample old jazz tracks (though admittedly it's more funk, soul, R&B...). But while hip hop samples some jazz, I don't see much of the other way around. I'd like to explore that.

In any event, from the former category I love modal jazz. Late 50's, early 60's, with perhaps the most canonical work being Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. The aspect of that I like are the extended, almost vamp-style chord changes which really open things up for soloing on top. You open with a phrase, have several instruments tell a story soloing one after the other, then come back to your main phrase to cap it off. Exemplified by one of the coolest songs of all time:

To a degree you could argue there's that aspect in some hip hop of a repeated sample or beat with expression on top of it - say with multiple lyricists all in a common theme (in the following example) or just one performer telling a story (a la Slick Rick). And for those who say all hip hop is garbage, you can't understand what they're saying, blah blah blah... fuck off with that nonsense. Some is shit, sure, I'll give you that. Some of it isn't. And with regard to "understanding" people... can you "understand" what John Coltrane is communicating when he goes off on a tear of a wild solo? No, you can't? Didn't think so. Just put a tune on and enjoy it for what it is and don't go off on some elitist rant of why your favorite music is so much better than something else.

Regardless, from the hip hop category I love the "boom bap" style of things from the mid-90's, particularly out of New York. Pete Rock exemplifies it with punchy drums at the front of the mix. Check it:

Keeping on the drum theme, while I love the punchy and catchy drums of the boom bap, I still want to be able to have an organic and diverse sound while keeping time. For that, I bring you Steve Gadd. I don't get into drummers much but this guy is the man. Check the following with him playing "in the pocket" - not going into some free time or busting out a solo, but just... well, listen for yourself. I could put listening to this sorta thing for ten minutes straight:

So I really dig the things he does with a groove. Drilling down a bit more to the specific level, Gadd is great with "linear" drumming, in which you don't have as much (or any) of the overlap you'd find in pop or rock drumming with multiple limbs hitting at once. Gives it a really cool sound. I could definitely imagine taking the idea behind the sticking for Lenore (Chick Corea), slowing it way down, and growing some accent and expressive bits on that to make it really fat punchy beat.

We'll end it there with the drums and percussion for tonight!

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