Friday, October 15, 2021

Lopsy Lu revisited

Someone left a rather odd comment on my old Lopsy Lu transcription, of Tony Williams playing with Stanley Clarke, and I saw that my own notes from that 2015 post are also rather obscure, so I thought I'd write a new guided listening tour of the track. It's a short tune that's deceptively difficult to follow, especially given what's happening on the recording. It should be a popular tune with the current breed of chops-centric young electric bass players, so you could find yourself playing it sometime. For me it's in in a category with Vashkar— another short, strange tune.   

Listen while you read: 


All time signatures I reference here are compound meters, with an 8 on the bottom of the time signature, with dotted quarter notes as the counted and felt beat— that happens to be the rhythm played on the bass drum at the start. Compound meters are triplet-feel meters counted in the top number divided by three: 

6/8 = counted in 2 (not 6)
12/8 = counted in 4 (not 12)

So where I mention beats or counting, I'm referring to dotted quarter notes, not the number at the top of the time signature. Hit the link above and read that post if this is in any way confusing.  

The tune has an A-B, two part form. We'll call the singable part the A section, and the riff-like part the B section. The recording starts with the B section, immediately when the bass comes in at 0:04. The first A section starts at 0:23 and ends at 0:34. Get those in your ear, and be able to tell when you're hearing an A or B section. There are lots of aural gray areas in this tune, so you may not know every second, but you'll know when you hear the riff or the melody   

I wrote the original transcription in 12/8— meaning counted in 4— which it could be, but I find it a difficult meter to count and keep track of the form. It seems more natural to count most of the tune in 8. Try counting through about the first minute of the recording that way. The B section will have five measures of 8, the A section will have three measures of 8. 

In counting you'll notice the B section sits a little funny. I think it's easier if you the Bs 10-8-8-8-6, so the repeating bass figure falls at the end of each measure, which is natural to my ear. Basically that figure happens four times in every B section, with a little padding before and after. Try counting that right when the bass comes in after 0:03. 

The time signatures implied by counting this way are kind of ridiculous— 24/8, 30/8, 18/8. I would never write something out that way. I rarely count in 8, it just happens to work here. 

That's the structure of the tune. I posted a practice loop of the entire form if you want to play along. If you want to see how one other person transcribed it, you can get the Stanley Clarke collection from Bassline Publishing. 

Here's a map for counting through the entire track— I suggest you do it a couple of times, because why not. If you insist on counting it in 8 all the way through, replace each 10 and 6 with an 8. 


0:00 - drums only - 8   

0:03 - B section - 10-8-8-8-6

0:23 - A section - 8-8-8

0:35 - B - 10-8-8-8-6

0:54 - A - 8-8-8

1:05 - short B - 10-8-8-6

1:21 - A - 8-8-8

1:32 - B - 10-8-8-8-6 (Stanley doesn't play first riff)

1:51 - A - 8-8-8

2:03 - B/A - 10-8-8-6-8 (A section played on 8-8-6 portion, 8 beats padding a end)

2:22 - extended A - 8-8-8-8

Repeat extended A under solos until drum solo at 5:19

5:19 DRUM SOLO - A - 8-8-8

5:30 - B - 10 - ||: 8-8 :|| (3x) - 8-6

6:02 - HEAD OUT - A - 8-8-8

6:14 - B - vamp on B section riff and fade


People could argue for counting and writing it differently, I imagine, but what somebody wrote is not necessarily what it is. Downbeats = strong beats* is a basic organizing principle of music, and counting the B sections the way I do makes the accented endings of all of the major figures anticipations of a 1. And nobody on the recording is playing anything to suggest that the barlines are somewhere else. I'd be curious to see the sketch Stanley handed out at the recording, if any. 

* - Regardless of what is happening syncopation-wise in the arrangement or performance, whether performers are accenting strongly or not. Harmonic motion defines the 1s, the downbeats. 

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