Rhythmic Analysis: Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts – ‘Housed From Edward’

March 28, 2012

by Joe Manis

It is useful to study instruments other than one’s own: for composers, to facilitate writing more informed parts for these players; for teachers, to assist coaching of student ensembles. For non-drummers, for example, analyzing various rhythmic devices can also generate various compositional and/or arranging ideas.

Although I’m a saxophonist, I gained a great deal from exploring drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts’ playing on Branford Marsalis’ tune, “Housed From Edward.” The track was recorded May 26, 1989 on Marsalis’ album, Trio Jeepy, featuring Marsalis on tenor saxophone, Milt Hinton on bass, and Tain on drums.

The tune is a 12-bar F blues. Three minutes and 36 seconds into the recording is where my transcription excerpt begins, in bar nine of the 12-bar blues form. Tain is playing in an Elvin Jones-influenced triplet style. The highlight of this excerpt is Tain’s use of rhythmic displacement: beginning in the second bar, he takes the standard triplet language and moves the pattern forward an eighth note triplet, creating a different permutation of the beat. The 12-bar blues is a good vehicle for experimentation, including the use of rhythmic devices such as this one. It should be incredibly familiar to the performer, and it provides a relatively easy form in which to keep your place, with its short overall length and regular, four-bar phrases. Tain’s choice to displace the rhythm on this particular tune makes sense, given the quirky nature of Marsalis’ opening melodic statements. It should be noted that Tain plays rather sparsely for the first several choruses and doesn’t build to this excerpt’s level of rhythmic complexity until the 9th and 10th choruses. Also, Tain does not choose to begin or resolve this device at the top of a form or even at the beginning or end of a four-bar phrase.

Tain begins the displacement on beat three of bar 10, and continues it through the beginning of the next chorus, resolving on the “and” of four of bar seven of chorus 10. This excerpt is in a triplet eighth note swing feel where the last eighth note triplet is the same as the “and” of each beat.

A standard ride cymbal pattern is one two “and” three four “and”; when Tain moves this basic pattern forward one eighth note triplet, now the ride cymbal pattern begins on the “and” of one, the second and third eighth-note triplet of two, the “and” of three, and the second and third eighth note triplet of four. A standard hi-hat pattern lands on beats two and four, as Tain plays in the beginning of the transcribed excerpt. When he creates the rhythmic displacement, the hi-hat ends up on the “and” of one and the “and” of three. In the aforementioned Elvin Jones style, Tain ornaments this basic ride cymbal and hi-hat pattern with eighth note triplets on the second and third part of the triplet beat and bass drum notes on the “ands” of the beats. When he displaces this Elvin Jones vocabulary, Tain’s snare drum notes are now on one and the second eighth note triplet of one, two, three, the second eighth note triplet of three, and four; the bass drum notes end up on the second eighth note triplet of beats one, two, three, and four.

The trick to any technique like rhythmic displacement is how a player transitions into and out of it while still sounding musical. Tain begins this new pattern by leaving the “and” of two off in bar two of the transcription, and then essentially re-setting himself on beat three by playing a snare drum note with no ride cymbal note. He resolves it by playing a ride cymbal note on beat one of bar 12 of the transcription, thus resulting in three consecutive eighth note triplet ride cymbal notes (where there are usually only two in a row) and a resetting of the beat emphasis back to normal. When Tain moves into this rhythmic concept, Marsalis takes the opportunity to also ‘abstract’ the beat, while Hinton holds his ground. It is a testimony to Milt Hinton’s unflagging walking bassline abilities that his performance is not thrown off by Tain’s rhythmic displacement.  It is impressive to note that Tain’s playing leading up to and immediately following the rhythmic displacement is through-composed in style, where one might ordinarily expect a player to simplify his or her playing transitioning in and out of a rhythmic device such as this.

Any musician should attempt rhythmic displacements only when he or she has solidified the basics: tone, time, time feel, technique and facility on his or her instrument, reliable intonation, and other fundamental ensemble and musicianship skills. In attempting rhythmic displacement, it is important to be able to feel how your new beat emphasis relates to the original beat emphasis (that others will still be playing) and to perform with that awareness, instead of just mentally adding or subtracting a given note value to initiate your new beat emphasis and then playing without reference to the original pulse. A good exercise when listening to this track (or others like it) is to try to continue to feel the original beat through the entirety of the rhythmic displacement by tapping your foot, and not let yourself be swayed by the new beat emphasis Tain’s rhythmic displacement creates. Once one becomes comfortable, this type of exercise will aid a performer in being able to keep form through many rhythmic devices that rhythm section players may employ in the course of an improvisational performance.

Along with keeping track of the beat and form while listening to recordings such as this one, these rhythmic ideas can be practiced in group situations of various sizes, having one or more people take turns deviating from the original beat emphasis while the remaining members maintain it. Because you won’t always have another individual or rhythm section at your disposal, the inverse of this idea can also be practiced with a metronome. For example, instead of having the metronome play on all the beats (i.e., every quarter note beat in 4/4), you can treat the metronome as if it were playing every third or fifth beat while you play along with it in 4/4. Also useful is to practice with the metronome clicking on the second or fourth beat, rather than on every beat, so that the bulk of the timekeeping responsibility lies on the player. For example, if the piece’s tempo is quarter note = 160, try putting the metronome on 80 or 40.

Rhythmic devices were a hallmark of Tain’s playing during this period in various ensembles, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis’ respective groups. Another example of rhythmic displacement (where, in contrast, the entire group is involved) is Thelonious Monk tune “Friday The 13th” on the Branford Marsalis Trio album, Bloomington. The album has the same lineup as Trio Jeepy, excepting the presence of Robert Hurst on bass rather than Milt Hinton. “Friday The 13th” is another great song for employing rhythmic devices such as displacement: it is only four bars in length total and the harmonic phrase structure is only two bars in length. Rhythmic playfulness also matches the characteristic idiosyncrasy of this type of Monk melody.

Joe Manis is a saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and educator active in the Pacific Northwest. Currently serving on the faculty of Umpqua Community College, Manis frequently serves as a clinician, masterclass presenter, and guest performer throughout the region. Quickly gaining recognition for the strength of Manis’ “intense, updated take on the Rollins-’Trane tradition,” the Joe Manis Trio received praise for its 2008 release, Evidence, and its high-energy performances at venues such as the Portland Jazz Festival and the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts.

 

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