Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Odd meter samba?

This line from Peter Erskine's The Drum Perspective is pretty much an instant classic:

I've felt strongly, for a long time now, that instead of seducing and encouraging the younger and learning drummer to practice, among other things, funk-rock beats in 7/4, odd-time sambas(!) or other marginally important aspects of the craft, young drummers should be encouraged to think. To play creatively. To compose on the instrument.

That parenthetical exclamation point speaks volumes— what the hell are you thinking, it says. This is an abomination. You're taking one of the most perfect, human dance musics of the world and turning it into an intellectual game, or a vehicle for exercising your technical prowess. It was compelling to me, and though I've never been much of a thinker in my playing, I've tried to live by that statement in my own way, particularly with regards to playing creatively, and not bothering with stuff that was marginal to what was going on in my own musical world.

And yet here we are. Let's listen:

Here's the primary groove, from the beginning of the tune; there is a lot of variation in the left hand part:

More transcribed grooves, and a few thoughts on this after the break:

Here's Airto earlier in his career, with Sambalanco Trio, playing one of my favorite Brazilian tunes partly in 5:

The groove from the 5/4 sections tracks the rhythm of the vamp closely. It's easiest to hear this at the end of the recording:

So, wait, what are we doing here? What's going on?

First, Brazilian music has a much more vibrant folkloric tradition than American music, particularly with regards to percussion, and from a continent away it's easy to think of it as a fixed, tradition-bound thing. But Brazil is a modern culture, and innovation is as much a part of its tradition as it is in American music. Odd time samba is really no more far out than odd time swing— it's a reasonably-expected innovation from cosmopolitan, creative musicians. And actually, the only recorded examples of it I've been able to find were by Brazilian artists— Airto, Dom Um Romao, Roberto Menescal, Azymuth.

I'm still very much a Brazilian drumming tourist, but I think I've come to understand it enough— the drum set component of it, anyway— to begin to get a sense of it not just as a style, but as a major language of the instrument, like jazz, rock, and funk; and going deeper into it is influencing other areas of my playing, helping them go places they otherwise might not have. Likewise, learning the odd meter versions of Brazilian forms helps gives me something a little deeper to draw from when playing odd meters in other styles.

In general, developing more of a command of odd meters— still far from complete with me— has been about much more than learning to play things I'll rarely play with other musicians. I've always been an intuitive player, deliberately so, and working on odd meters has forced me to learn to play more consciously as well.

So maybe we can proceed with a little more confidence that we're not dashing down some drummery rabbit hole. Here's more Airto:

The groove:

Adriana, a famous tune by Roberto Menescal, in 5/4:

The groove is a fairly simple 5/4 bossa nova:

The same tune in more of a pop context:

The bass drum is played very softly, and at times may only sketch out the part here:

That same basic groove is also used another tune in 5 by Menescal:

If you want to pursue this further, I will again recommend Ed Uribe's book the Essence of Brazilian Percussion, along with a lot of listening and playing, of course. Each meter is dealt with on one or two concise pages, which is enough. Playing the odd meter versions well depends on understanding the styles in their native 2/4, 2/2, or 4/4, so that is where most people will actually need the most work.

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