Though the main riff of Chaka Khan's "Sleep On It" looks to be moving from Fmaj7 to G, it's clear that the chords in question are actually Fmaj7 and Emin7/G. This can be confirmed by checking out Anthony Jackson's numerous E minor-based fills throughout the verse section - replete with F-sharps and leading-note D-sharps - examples of which can be found in bar 9, bar 36 etc. For confirmation that the band isn't seeing this riff as Fmaj7 to G6, lend an ear to the guitars and you'll hear common Fmaj7 voicings slipping down a semitone to equally common Emin7 voicings throughout the main groove.
And, judging from the fact that the bass never dips below a low E - coupled with the telltale ringing of the open strings that are often heard as rhythmically used passing notes - it's clear AJ is playing this track in standard tuning.
A fine example of AJ's belief in his own harmonic conviction can be seen in bars 21, 29, 44 and 77, where, despite the rest of the band laying down a the equivalent of iii7, biii7, V7, Ima7 in C, (moving from Em7 through Ebmin7 to the passing tonic of D minor, which then becomes the ii of C major). True to maverick form, AJ steers clear of this chromatic slide through Ebmin7 (in effect substituting for V7 in D minor) altogether, and plays through the cadence as though the Ebmin7 isn't happening at all, either staying with the Emin7 feel, as in bar 19, or moving from B to C# into Dmin, hinting at a straight V-I in D minor. The oft-resulting Ebmin7/E chord creates a juicy cadential scrunch and gives rise to cries of "Yikes!" and "Hallelujah!" in equal measure.
In bar 53, AJ makes rhythmic use of the open A string within a rising octave figure, transforming a potentially standard eighth-note figure into a staggered eight- and sixteenth-note affair. (This kind of use of open strings was a favored trick of James Jamerson.) AJ makes extensive use of this same open-string/octave figure in "Our Love's In Danger" from Chaka's "Naughty" album.
As with several of the tracks from "Naughty" and "What Cha' Gonna Do For Me," AJ's use of syncopation, sixteenth-note rests and general rhythmic inventiveness can give rise to fairly "busy" looking transcriptions, but I reckon this is a small price to pay for an insight into how a true artist approaches the business of creation.
As mentioned elsewhere, AJ likes to use approach notes to add color and bite to a line. For example, in bar 22 (and bar 45), on the last beat of the bar he uses an eighth-note chromatic enclosure figure (Ab to F#) to encircle the root of the looming G13 chord in bar 23. Another example can be found in bar 36, where he momentarily digs into a non-passing A# to emphasize the B (the fifth of the Emin7 chord) on the second beat of the bar.
Also worthy of note is the masterful way AJ and drummer Steve Ferrone elegantly dilate the "B sections" (first seen from bar 18), with AJ imparting more of a jazz walking feel while Ferrone leans artfully into his ride cymbal to conjure up more space than an African savannah. These subtle tweaks help propel these sections along like a gently restrained locomotive. Sprinkle a little string-section vermicelli on top and you've got an expansive and colourful section that contrasts superbly with the tight and compact main groove.
"Sleep On It" is peppered with Irregular phrase lengths that break up the classic 4-square phrasing of the "normal" R&B landscape. Sections 26-32, 49-55 and 82-88 all end one bar "early," to yield 7-bar phrases, while a 10-bar phrase from 64-73 heralds the end of the dramatic middle section (which in this case, is a middle-10!).
There's an unorthodox method employed to segue into the machine-gun punctuation of the middle-10 (I love that phrase!).
In bar 53 - seemingly out of nowhere - the band lays down a Dm7b5 chord, which is used to pivot from the Emin7/G of the verse into the Amin7 of the middle section. Huh?! What gives!? What's this seemingly non-pivotal pivot-style chord doing here? Well, on one hand, I guess it's a pretty cool way to get from A to B; just throw in a seemingly random chord to directly modulate into a new section. However, a bit of thought reveals that this chord might not be quite so random after all..
One way of seeing this chord is from the standpoint of modal interchange - a concept used widely in the jazz world. With modal interchange it's very common when playing in a major key to borrow a chord from a mode of the parallel minor. Thus,
if we perceive the main groove of "Sleep On It" as being ostensibly in C major (with Fmaj7 and Emin7 representing the IV chord and iii chord, respectively), we can view this apparently incongruous Dm7b5 as the modally interchanged ii chord of C minor.
However, this still leaves us stumped as to the connection between Dm7b5 and the first chord of the new section. But wait a minute...stick an E below Dm7b5 and suddenly those notes start to look pretty familiar in terms of the impending A minor section. With an theoretical E in the bass, Dm7b5 is suddenly and magically transformed into E7#5b9, the V of A minor.
Alternatively...if we perceive the Dm7b5 chord as no more than the modally interchanged ii chord borrowed from C minor, then we could hypothesize that the key never actually leaves C major at all. Viz, following the Dm7b5 we merely carry on in C major by treating the Amin7 chord of the new section as the vi chord of C, which is, after all, where the section is heading with the unresolved ii, V of bars 68-71. True to Chaka form, however, the expected resolution to C is sidestepped by employing the tritone substitution of C7 (a Gb7-based chord) in the latter half of bar 73 to segue into F major. As a related aside, producer/arranger Arif Mardin adds a little exotic spice to this Gb9b5 chord by running off a whole-tone scale in the strings. Happy days!
If there's a more elegant way to describe all this please let me know! ;-)
Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2009