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Anthony Jackson - "Fate"

As featured on "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me" by Chaka Khan
Warner B7599-25867-2 (1981)

Chaka Khan - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me

As with "Too Much Love" from Chaka Khan's 'Naughty" album, Mark Stevens (Chaka's sweet-voiced, bass-playing brother) has again - somewhat controversially - been allowed to overdub a string of slap/pop phrases onto a track already graced by the low-frequency artistry of Anthony Jackson.

Is nothing sacred?! ;-)

As before, the evidence is thus: Jackson is known to have a certain antipathy toward "mindless" slapping and popping, whereas Mark Stevens is a known proponent of the style. However, unlike "Too Much Love," where both men are credited with the bass role, on "Fate" only Jackson gets a name check. Having said that, my current copy of "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me" is a Japan-bought CD. Sadly, my vinyl version is sitting in a box about 6000 miles away in a London warehouse, so I can't check whether the sleeve notes are different on the vinyl version. If anyone can confirm if Mark Stevens cops a bass credit for this track on the inner sleeve of the vinyl version, or even a CD bought elsewhere in the world, I'd be most grateful!

Though Abraham Laboriel is also credited with bass on one number ("Night In Tunisia"), that track was recorded under a different engineer and with different personnel to the rest of the album. This makes it extremely likely that it was the likely around-on-a-daily-basis Stevens who laid down the slapping on "Fate." As additional evidence, I offer the fact that the phrase heard on "Fate" is almost identical to that heard on "Too Much Love"!

Lest there be any doubt that the slap/pop phrases were dubbed on top of AJ's playing, check out this excerpt from bars 33-35, where, on the last eight-note of bar 35 you can hear AJ's bass being faded back in - somewhat clumsily it has to be said - following Stevens' slap fills. Click here for the same excerpt raised by an octave, which makes the fade-in even more transparent. The fact that this note has no articulation indicates that AJ was faded in mid-note on the last beat of bar 35, meaning we only get to hear the latter part of the note he played as it fades in. Similar sections also fade AJ in and out to accommodate Stevens' overdubs.

And there, your honour, rests the case for the defence (or is it the prosecution!?).

As to whether Stevens' contribution improves the track, it's hard to say without hearing what AJ played in the first place. I guess the jury will forever be out on that point.

Moving on...

Due to the often irregular placing of the chord changes in relation to the bass part, I've taken the liberty of clogging up the page with a rhythm line: Useful if you want to know where the chords fall or if your band wants to do a cover of the song; useless if you're on a paper-conservation drive. ;-)

Like several other tracks on "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me," "Fate" features a Moog bass synth in addition to AJ's (detuned) 4-string Fender bass. As such, in the intro, I initially thought AJ was playing an octave lower than he actually is due to his line being doubled an octave below by the synth.

The synth also plays an important role in adding some delicate hues to this number. For example, in the 8-bar intro, the long held synth D# gives the chords played by the Rhodes-sounding piano a strange twist, especially when the D# acts as the major 7th of Emaj7 in bar 2. As noted in the transcription, these long held synth notes later affect the harmony in no small way. For example, synth player David Richards several times plays a long countermelody that includes a G#. This note is held over the oft-recurring D#min7 chords and effectively turns them into min11th chords, imparting a subtle new dimension to the harmony.

Chaka herself is no slouch when it comes to picking up on these harmonic nuances. Check out how she lands squarely on the 11th in the final D#min chord of bar 28, segueing beautifully into the C#min7 chord of the following bar, where it is once again picked up by the synth. Chaka pulls off another delightful vocal stunt in bars 76-77, when, on the last two beats of bar 76 she hits a high E over the D# minor chord - in effect creating a rarely encountered Phrygian scale-derived min7b9 chord. Chaka's E then moves down a half-step to D# in the following bar to add a 13th the to F#9sus chord that heralds a brief passage of fresh harmonic movement before cycling back to the main groove. Go Chaka!

AJ's choice of note over a given chord often momentarily destabilizes the harmony in unexpected ways. For an example of this kind of inspired bass-related musical tension, check out the latter half of bar 60, where he plays an unorthodox, yet supremely confident E sharp over the Emaj7 chord. From this ear-grabbing position he then proceeds to climb chromatically to the root of the chord on the downbeat of the following bar (G#min7) where the tension is finally released. That AJ was allowed to indulge in this kind of venturesome harmonic daring in a "pop music" context is testament to producer Arif Mardin's appreciation of the musicians around him. Of course, this E sharp could potentially be interpreted as a mistake, but somehow, given the satisfying way it climbs chromatically to resolve on the G#, and the fact that it's AJ on the bass, I doubt it very much. ;-)

For another example of AJ's audacious thinking, check out how he plays a low E approach note over the D#min chord on the last beat of bar 35. Brazen. But beautiful.

Other areas of interest include bar 65, where AJ runs off a stunning arpeggio figure containing a chromatic approach note (A#) to the minor 7th of C#min7 (played on the downbeat!), perfectly complementing Chaka's "Rang like a bell" lyrics. If this had been anyone else but AJ, I'd be inclined to think it was accidental. ;-)

Incidentally, the min11 chord that features so largely in "Fate" is also sometimes referred to as the "So What" chord, due to pianist Bill Evans' groundbreaking use of it on Miles Davis' track of the same name. (Due to Evans' novel 5-note voicing, the chord can often be seen notated as a min7(add4) chord.)

Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2008