Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Listening to Somethin' Else

Somethin' Else is a very famous record by Cannonball Adderley, that really belongs in that “the one jazz record I know” list, along with Kind of Blue and Moanin'. When I was in school nobody could afford to own everything, so between the 4-5 of us that were hanging out, we had an OK record collection. 

Recorded in 1958, when Cannonball was in Miles Davis's band— shortly after Milestones was recorded. Somethin' Else has Miles as a sideman, and Hank Jones, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey on drums. Miles basically produced the session, evidently. 

I don't know how insightful these comments are— I'm putting down what strikes me that I'm able to put into words, in a reasonable amount of time. The first thing you do in writing about any art is to say what you hear, or see. 

Autumn Leaves
This tune has been so beaten to death in school and in jam sessions, it's really hard to play it without feeling this heavy existential dread. This is a very cool rendition, and one of the classic renditions. Composed intro/outro a la Ahmad Jamal, that makes me think of Gil Evans. No stop time— the popular way to do it at jam sessions. Outro is slower than the original tune. 

As a player, I want people to be ready to do intros/outros like that spontaneously, to have ideas for doing that. Blakey just plays time throughout, sometimes doing a Latin percussion effect on the snare drum and tom tom. He does that often on this record, simulating a conga player.   

Centerpiece of the record. The intro figure is really part of the book of this tune that everybody should know, especially piano and bass players.   

Love For Sale 
One of the first tunes I learned— we played the Blue Wisp arrangement of this in high school. The tune's not a blank slate, it's a little journey, with some events for the rhythm section to support. 

Listening here, it feels like there's a lot of action. There's a rubato solo piano intro, then a brief Ahmad-like Latin vamp (again, cop that figure, pianists). Blakey plays a strong accent when he comes in there. Swing 2 feel with brushes on when Miles comes in with the tune. Latin vamp comes back before the bridge— Blakey uses sticks briefly there, before going back to the brushes for the bridge and last A. At the end of the form there are some arranged kicks and four bars of the Latin vamp. Apart from the Latin parts, Sam Jones plays in 2 for the whole head. 

Cannonball is the only soloist, and he plays two choruses. Rhythm section swings in 4 the whole time, except in the first chorus Blakey momentarily plays the Latin groove going into the bridge. Blakey plays sticks, with a bongo groove with the left hand. They play the straight through the form, none of the added kicks or Latin parts. 

Back to brushes on the head out, Miles plays the A sections, Hank Jones plays the bridge. Sam Jones walks until the last A, where he goes into 2. None of the added Latin parts happen, except at the very end, as an outro. It seems to come as a surprise, because Blakey plays the first few bars with brushes, and then switches to sticks.     

There's a lot of power to having everything clean and in its place like this. These changes like going from brushes to sticks have a big impact when there aren't a lot of distractions. 

Somethin' Else 

Bright tempo blues written by Miles, with an oblique kind of melody and some funny changes— somebody with more harmonic knowledge than me could tell you what's happening here. There's more comping activity from Blakey here, but it's all balanced to be softer than the ride cymbal. There's a tight little dynamic envelope happening there.  

There's a little air between the attack on the cymbal and Sam Jones's attack on the bass. It's fooling my ear a little bit— I think Jones is in front, Blakey in back, and could totally be wrong. They're both absolutely solid and come off as being right on the beat, and driving. There's just a little space between their attacks. 

Around 3:57 Blakey double times in a way I don't hear much any more. Dick Berk, a great drummer I used to see a lot in the 90s, used to do that a lot. 

One For Daddy-O
Slow blues in 2, again with the conga beat on the drums, brush in the right hand, stick in the left hand. The brush is beating quarter notes out of a circular motion, from the sound of it. 

Blakey goes to sticks and the bass goes into 4 as Cannonball's solo starts. Blakey continues the conga beat through the rest of the tune. On the head out, the bass goes back into 2, Blakey continues that beat. 

Dancing In The Dark 
This is a Cannonball feature, he plays the head and has the only solo. Bass walks during the solo, Blakey plays a basic time feel with the brushes all the way. Like on the rest of the record, it takes a lot of patience to play that way. It's its own effect, just playing time and not doing anything else. That doesn't even register as a way to play for most ambitious players today, it's off the table. Change it up.  

In my years working the titular gig of this site I played this tune a lot, with several excellent, though young, tenor players, and this was the type of tune they always hated play, and they could never do much with it. Listening here, obviously the problem was not the tune. They were prepared to do a lot of modern improvising and playing hip stuff, but had a harder time just playing a tune and making that good. They all learned, because they were good, but it took some time. 

Alison's Uncle
Bonus track, a loose medium up bebop tune. Blakey plays a little more, and gets to solo— he gets a chorus, and the bridge on the head out. He plays a hip variation on his conga beat for part of Miles solo. You could pull a lot of clich├ęs (that's not a pejorative) out of Blakey's solo, if you were inclined that way. Not a lot happening with the bass drum, he's mostly using his hands, with the hihat strongly on 2 and 4 all the way through. One of these days I'll check out more closely how he phrases his solos— here they're basically neat little four bar phrases that develop nicely, they take a little turn in the second two measures. 


Michael Griener said...

You should make a series out of it.
That's a lot of important information right there.

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks Michael-- suddenly this feels way more useful and doing more transcriptions.

Germany plans forming, by the way, will be in touch soon! t