I’ve been enjoying the drumming of Steve Gadd on the Chick Corea album ‘My Spanish Heart’, and was particularly taken by his drumming to the tune ‘Wind Danse’. In fact, more than just the drumming, the track itself is one of my favourites. But aside from the joy of listening from a personal perspective, the rhythms in the tune are fascinating. I refer to the repeated sections after the intro (from about 17 seconds on). I tried to play along, but couldn’t quite get the phrasing down, and struggled to hear the pulse and how that divided sensibly into bars in Chick’s playing. So I transcribed the first part of that section, counting out where it appeared at first listen the bars should be, and I came up with the following time signatures: 9/8, 5/8, 5/8, 8/8, 3/8, 13/8, 4/4 — Pretty crazy! Try sight reading that accurately!
However, I stumbled across the following video by Chick Corea of Rhythmic displacement.
The implication being, that when we listen to a phrase which appears to contain a multitude of ever changing time signatures each bar, this can be the result of rhythmic displacement, where the pulse is temporarily disguised by a phrase which moves across it and/or in and out of it. So, a phrase can appear to be odd when its pulse is in fact 4/4. When trying to pick up the phrase by ear, I had naturally tapped out the 1/4 note pulse stated in the intro, and had found that the phrase ended on the one – you’ll notice that my counting for the ‘odd’ bars (9/8, 5/8, 5/8, 8/8, 3/8, 13/8, 4/4) adds up to 52 – 13 4/4 measures in other words. I have subsequently re-transcribed the drum rhythms (not the orchestration or sticking yet), and now the rhythm is much easier to read as I now have an even pulse to deal with.
*****INSERT transcription of the rhythms interpreted as displaced 4/4 and odd bar lengths*********
The interesting thing about Rhythmic displacement is that any melodic instrumentalist does it naturally, when playing over an explicit pulse i.e. a drummer play steadily in 4. The tricky thing about ‘Wind Danse’ from an ensemble perspective (and particularly the drummer who has to keep everyone together) is that Steve Gadd plays Chick’s rhythms rather than laying his beat as the basis for the piano. In order to keep a pulse going, Gadd plays straight 8th’s over the top of the accents which follow Chick’s piano – thus he has kept the time relatively explicit, albeit with a disguised pulse. In the first part of ‘Wind Danse’, this approach is employed to create an airy and laid back feel, allowing the listener to focus on the melody rather than any clever rhythmic displacement that may be occurring. Later on, Gadd takes this basic approach and elaborates on the theme using the whole kit, rather than just cymbal accents.
I read in an interview about Steve Gadd’s time playing with Chick Corea that in the studio, he would have Chick’s piano parts pinned around the wall in front of his kit, and use those as a guide to constructing the drum part. It seems to me that this approach leads to a very creative and complimentary drum part that really emphasises the lead melody so that it almost appears to be without form at times.
In Rock music this type of approach is less common. There are plenty of odd times and unusual rhythmic combinations in this music, but usually these odd times are stated much more explicitly (good examples of the explicit approach include the Gavin Harrison’s opening drum part to the drum track Porcupine Tree cut ‘The sound of muzak’, Neil Peart’s playing in the bridge section of the Rush song ‘Marathon’, or sections of ‘Keep it greasy’ by Frank Zappa (That’s some serious playing from Vinnie Colauita there) ).
I shall definitely be spending more time on this topic!