Tuesday, May 31, 2022

5/8 control

Sid Catlett would always tell me, “Art, when you're in trouble, roll. Just relax, you know what I mean?”

Let's talk about something I'm preparing for, kind of a hairy gig coming up next week, playing with a trumpet player and guitarist from New York, who are touring and picking up local drummers. 

...which is a little nuts, of them, because some of the music is rather hard. The rhythm sensibility is generally rather abstract, there are some odd meters, with a couple of tunes in 5/8, or a 5/8 feel— possibly the unfriendliest odd meter. I wouldn't want to trust my luck with local musicians with that. [Or not— one of the other drummers is D'Vonne Lewis, a great veteran player in Seattle.] On the recordings there's that generally twitchy New York type of thing happening in the drums, with the recorded drummers playing a lot of stuff that I don't hear, and would never play.   

My thought process approaching this music is kind of involved— we're talking about taking a complicated organism— a mature player's performance vocabulary— and quickly mashing it into shape for a kind of alien environment. Maybe the atmosphere has less O2, gravity is 120% of Earth's, and the locals have started forming their own language.  

You can listen to the main tune I'm concerned with here, an arrangement of a Schumann piece— the body of the tune is in 5/8, the trumpet solo is in 6, and back into 5/8 for the drum solo:

The drummer on that record is Dan Weiss, and apparently that's his thing. Me, I've never soloed in 5/8 in my life. At this tempo, it has to be felt as a fast lopsided 2, or a slow 1— a quintuplet, and if you deviate from it, it sounds really wrong and you get really lost. If you let your hands go on their own for one second, you're dead. Counting in 1, the drum solo is basically eight measures of 4, in quintuplets. Long enough to embarrass yourself, too short to develop much... or to recover your dignity if you blow it, hahahahaha. 

So I wrote up a page of stuff to play through to get my hands better oriented, blocking out at least the outlines of some drumming content for this meter and feel. Maybe I'll also review this little etude in 5/8 I wrote a few years ago.

Like I say, an uncomfortable feel to play on the drumset. Playing alternating 8ths, you land on the opposite hand every measure. You can impose a lead on it by using a sticking that starts every measure with the same hand. Or you can try changing it into a mutant duple meter by playing RLRL and resting on the last 8th of the measure, and having that be your "grid." There are also some key rhythms you can hang things off of.   

If I don't feel great about making a continuous solo texture, I can take an attitude of backing off and jabbing— but you have to be able to hear it. Interestingly, as I prepare, I notice it's sort of possible to play loosely as long as you're playing off the 1. And why not— you can get to a quintuplet rhythm by massaging normal rhythms, why not the other way around? 

In the end, I won't go into a performance and be dominated by the music, or by another drummer's concept of how to play it. I can float a solo out of time, while still feeling the major pulse, and listening hard. The solo is so short I'll have to be aggressive, and hit that right away, to have time to establish that and bring it back around to the 5/8 feel. 

And hell, if it comes to that, painfully blowing it in public is a time-honored tradition in jazz, so I'll have that to fall back on if all else fails.  

Get the pdf


Nechama (JazzAcolyte) said...

I’m delighted to hear that painfully blowing it in public is a time-honored tradition. And here I thought I was just messing up.

Todd Bishop said...

Well, it happens to everybody, sometimes in brutal ways. Everybody's been there.