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Anthony Jackson - "Clouds"

As featured on "Naughty" by Chaka Khan
Warner 7599-26747-2 (1980)

Chaka Khan - Naughty

Right off the bat, let me warn you that this transcription is fiddly: I'm talking about a clinically neurotic off-the-scale fastidiousness that worries those around me and likely indicates a need for professional counselling. ;-) As such, this transcription of "Clouds" is awash with sixteenth rests, sprinkled with staccato markings, and shot through with a pedantic desire to somehow capture every microcosmic iota of the scintillating magic that Anthony Jackson conjures up on the track.

Up until this point in time (late 1970s - early 80s), bassists had generally been content with the low-E limit imposed by the regular tuning of the electric bass. (Jimmy Johnson and his 5-string collaboration with Alembic being a notable exception.) However, dissatisfied with this mode of thinking and seeking a way to express the sounds he heard in his head, Jackson experimented with the tuning of his instrument by fiddling with the bridge and truss rod and tuning down two whole steps. As a result, the earth-shaking low Cs on this track, and the other sub-low-E notes heard throughout "Naughty" likely caused bassists' jaws to drop around the world. (AJ had already dabbled with down-tuning on Chaka's 1978 album "Chaka.")

Those with keen ears may wonder if the notation in bar 6 is correct. And, yes,I admit it sounds like AJ is playing sixteenth notes through the first three quarter notes in the bar. Blame the piano and drums for this aural illusion, as close inspection reveals a different story. If you listen to this short excerpt - which has been raised an octave and blasted with EQ - you'll see what I mean.

As AJ clips a lot of notes short on this track, I've tried to use staccato markings to cut down on too many rests, e.g. in bar 8, all the dotted notes are roughly equal to an eighth-note - even the dotted eight-note! - usually this kind of thing really bothers me, but in this case, the length of the notes are implicit in the basic groove. Having said that, where's there's room for possible confusion, I've written things out in full.

As well as his choice of notes and rhythmic drive, a large percentage of AJ's magic lies in what he doesn't play. An example of this mastery occurs in bar 97 (and later bar 101) where he deliberately omits the eagerly expected low C on the first beat of the bar. If you know this track, you know exactly what I mean. These deliberate omissions are perhaps the greatest and funkiest quarter-note rests in the history of popular music: I still fall out my chair every time I hear this section, despite the fact I know it's coming!

Another key ingredient of AJ's style is in evidence on this track; his muting of the strings at the bridge with the palm of his right hand. This technique serves to add an extra dimension of control to the length of each note as well as allowing a tighter grip on rhythmic delivery.

Melodically, Chaka Khan likes to dance around on the upper extensions of a chord, so often, when the band is laying down a common-or-garden 7th chord, Chaka - or the backing singers - will be hitting 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths. To further complicate matters, chords are often embellished in unexpected ways. For example, in the cadence just before the chorus, the dominant sus chord, is given a new flavour by the piano player, Leon Pendarvis, as he runs off a G, Bb, C, Eb, F melodic line, which imparts a Cmin11 flavour over the G bass. (The strings later pick up on this same figure.)

Another example of this kind of harmonic build-up is the way the Bb chords are voiced in the chorus. The backing singers basically sing a Bbsus chord, with the fourth (Eb) resolving, predictably, down to the third (D). However, none of the band play this Eb. Rather, the D is sounded simultaneously with the Eb suspension giving the chord a juicy scrunch. Rather than bothering to consistently notate all these harmonic shenanigans (it's a bass transcription for Gods sake!!), I just stuck a Bb9 symbol in each time, (yup, there's a C in there too), though I guess the chord viewed as a whole is technically a Bb11, a chord that generally does not crop up on charts... So sue me!! ;-)

This uncommonly encountered dominant 11th chord - which contains the natural 3rd and 4th, aka the natural 11th that is usually sharpened in a dominant chord - is also employed for the three punchy staccato stabs played by the strings in the intro. Producer and string arranger Arif Mardin deftly moves the parts around within the chord to squeeze the maximum harmonic juice from them. For example, the notes D4, E4, F4, and G4 are played simultaneously in two of the chords, before one violin leaps from F4 to E5 as another stays resolutely on F4. Simple, but effective part writing.

Incidentally, it's unlikely that a lead chart would specify an unaltered 11th chord. It more likely be written as the sus chord I've specified here (probably notated as a slash chord), with the 3rd being added in by a waggish guitarist or pianist.

Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2008