Monday Notes

Jaco Pastorius, Kuru / Speak Like a Child. The electric bass is the star attraction

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[Monday Notes no. 63] Jaco Pastorius revolutionized the electric bass, popularizing the the fretless bass (i.e., no frets on the neck). In addition to playing fantastic bass lines, Jaco was also capable of playing chords and harmonic sounds, turning the bass into a solo instrument. Herbie Hancock also participated in his first album, let’s analyze his song Speak Like a Child.

The piece opens with a long pedal composed by Jaco Pastorius and entitled Kuru, where we can appreciate an incisive bass line. On this bass riff are developed the solos of Herbie Hancock on piano (0’22”) and Don Alias on congas (1’31”). Our attention is however kidnapped by the bass line, which has a powerful groove and a smooth sound.

Kuru, bass line transcription

La linea di basso suonata da Jaco Pastorius su Kuru
The bass line played by Jaco Pastorius on Kuru

Also very interesting is the figure played by the strings that can be heard repeatedly throughout the piece. The phrase is composed of an ascending pentatonic scale repeated six times in different positions. The five-note phrases superimposed in 4/4 time create an interesting polyrhythmic effect.

Una frase poliritmica costruita sulla scala pentatonica
A polyrhythmic phrase built on the pentatonic scale

After the long initial modal part of Kuru, we can hear the refined harmonies of Speak Like a Child (2’18”). Jaco Pastorius accompanies the unfolding of the song with a bossanova figure, but very often he performs wonderful glissando and he also plays melodic phrases.

In his hands the bass is always the leading instrument, sometimes it is almost difficult to hear the rest of the band because the bass is too attractive and constantly draws attention to itself. Even in the orchestral parts the bass manages to hold its own against the entire string section.

Even more than the beautiful sound and extraordinary ability, what impresses about Jaco Pastorius is the personality. His electric bass is always in the center of the scene with energy and elegance at the same time.

Despite his short career and his premature death, Jaco Pastorius imposed himself as a new milestone in the history of his instrument, showing among other things how the electric bass could play an important role not only in rock, but also in jazz, a territory traditionally occupied by the double bass.

Until next Monday!

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