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BassPlayer 2017-05

BassPlayer 2017-05


LINK FACE TECH PLAY LEARN TRANSCRIPTION ? TRANSCRIPTION Aretha Franklin’s “Let Me In Your Life” Stanley Clarke’s Complete Bass Line BY CHRIS JISI | PHOTOGRAPH BY HEADS UP INTERNATIONAL A LESSER-KNOWN ASPECT OF STANLEY CLARKE’S EARLY career is that while he was in the throes of revolutionizing the bass, the Philadelphia native had a solid three-year run in the early ’70s as a groove-minded New York City session musician. “It was an amazing time,” Clarke recalls. “I had Fenders and Gibsons, and an Ampeg B-12, and I would do three or four sessions every day. I was paying $35 a month in rent and I’d make that in the first hour of my first session! In addition to doing record dates, I remember first meeting Clarke today and in the studio circa 1974 (inset). Billy Cobham on a Campbell’s Soup jingle and doing an Avon jingle with Herbie Hancock.” These recordings reveal Stanley’s ability to throw down while also offering a glimpse of his innovations that would change the bass landscape forever with Return To Forever and his landmark solo sides. Perhaps the best example is Aretha Franklin’s cover of Bill Withers’ 54 / may2017

“Let Me in Your Life,” from her 1974 album of the same name. The classic platter also features Willie Weeks and Chuck Rainey (including his peak performance on “Until You Come Back to Me,” transcribed in BP February ’97), but it was Stuff/session bassist Gordon Edwards who sent Clarke in to sub for him. The session took place in September 1973, at Manhattan’s famed Atlantic Studios on the corner of Broadway and 60th Street. In the main room, opposite the strings, Clarke was set up between drummer Rick Marotta and guitarist David Spinozza, with arranger/electric pianist Eumir Deodato, organist Bob James, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald nearby. He recalls Aretha being in a separate vocal room and Donny Hathaway in a room on acoustic piano. Stanley played his Fender Precision with flatwounds, recorded direct via a tube DI, as well as a miked Ampeg B-15, “to get some grit.” Deodato provided a chart that was mostly chord changes with some notated cues. The ensemble did two or three run-throughs and one or two recorded takes. The track begins with a two-bar intro that includes Deodato and Spinozza riffing, leading Clarke to boldly jump into the groove with his upper-register fill in bar 2. “I was young, cocky, and confident, so I went for it. The New York session scene at that time was friendly to the next hot young player coming up, and I was that guy on bass—which is smart, because to move music forward, you always have to acknowledge what the youth bring to the table. This was particularly true of Aretha’s producers on the session, Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, and Tom Dowd. They always had their eyes on the young guys and the next new sound, and they dug what I was doing. Wexler liked that I took chances. He listened to the take and said, ‘Yeah! That’s a bass track!’” Rather than a verse-chorus-bridge format, the song follows more of an A section/B section form, consisting of what Clarke describes as a “masculine” A section and “feminine” B section. Letter A is the hard-driving A section, with Stanley and his rhythm mates finding their way to a syncopated pulse during run-throughs. Clarke pivots between the tonic G and F, with some open-E pickups, and he uses chromaticism when moving to the IV chord C the second time (bars 17–18). “There was a language of contemporary R&B at the time created by masters like [drummer] Bernard Purdie and [guitarist] Cornell Dupree, and for me, on bass, James Jamerson and Chuck Rainey—and we were all fluent in it. We had the rhythms, the tonalities, and the licks down from listening to those guys. But at the same time, we added our own subtle twists and takes on it, as newer guys with varied influences. I remember Rick’s hi-hat feel was slightly different from Purdie’s.” Letter B is the song’s first B section, for which Clarke unleashes a series of ear-grabbing but tastefully phrased descending fills in the back half of each measure. Of note is how he starts his run on the 3rd (C) of the Am7b5 in bar 21 and moves to progressively higher starting notes in the successive chords; this includes the major 7th in bar 23, the 9th in 26, the 5th and 4th in 27, and the melodic motif in 31. Also key is how he uses the open G, D, and A strings to navigate these considerable spans. “There was space after the downbeat, and I’m thinking David, Rick, and the keyboardists aren’t doing anything, and even the string line is whole-notes, so I went for it! I thought [the section] needed some movement, and it came out naturally and quickly, without a lot of thought. I was a jazz musician; I knew chords and I knew which notes to pick. I remember Rick looking at me wide-eyed and then nodding. I was fearless and willing to be myself, plus everyone had made the session so comfortable for me. The other factor was that Aretha is aggressive and growling in the A section, which we all responded to, but in the B section she’s more passionate and pleading. I wanted to play something beautiful and emotional on the bass in response.” As for the open-string use, Clarke adds, “My whole approach to bass lines goes back to my roots on acoustic bass; utilizing open strings is a common device for getting around on the upright. But another part of my open-string use was for tonal purposes. As a melodic-minded player, I liked to have ringing notes, and back then, flatwound-strung electric basses had a short, thumpy sound, which is why I liked to have a miked amp when recording.” For letters C and D, Clarke mirrors his A and B output, with a bit more expression via slurs, slides, and hammers in D. This leads to the outro at E, which rides the A-section pocket. Stanley remains reactive, coming up with a motif in bar 69 (repeated in 72) that he builds off in bars 74–76. With the fade looming, he submits one more greasy, upper-register idea in bars 78 and 80. Clarke, whose output this year has included an historic week of duets with Ron Carter at the Blue Note in New York, a co-starring role on Bunny Brunel’s latest all-star bass effort, Bass Ball [2017, Nikaia], and an upcoming album with his own band, advises, “Listen to the track and work out the fingerings. When you have it down, go back and try your own ideas, keeping in mind that the best bass lines elevate the song.” BP / may2017 55

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