[Monday’s Notes No. 122] Rhythm & Blues was a kind of response of jazz music to rock, an antidote that was produced to resist the popularity of rock. Let us listen here to a song by Rhythm & Blues’ greatest performer, James Brown, entitled Cold Sweat.
Rhythm & Blues has some characteristics of rock: the simplicity of the songs, the great energy of the music, the centrality of the figure of the singer over the instrumentalists. From jazz, Rhythm & Blues has instead inherited improvisation and the riffs typical of big bands. Moreover, as in jazz, in Rhythm & Blues rhythm is always very important.
Cold Sweat is a perfect example of a Rhythm & Blues track. The piece is tripartite, the first part is built on a single Dm7 chord and on an energetic bass riff.
The brass section responds and complements the riff of the rhythm section, James Brown starts singing immediately and he practically never stops. The second part of the song moves on two major chords, C7 and F7.
The simplicity of these two sections already demonstrates how subordinate the chords are to the rhythm and vocal improvisations, without being particularly relevant. The second part concludes with a perfect cadence (I V I) followed by a suspended cadence (I IV V) in which the dominant G7 chord is charged with tension, in fact it is played in the two forms G7(#9) and then G7(b13).
These two dominant chords represent the point of maximum dissonance, a tension that is not resolved as the dominant chord G7 does not resolve on the tonic C, and the piece resumes as if nothing had happened from Dm7.
The device of the suspended cadence is a formula well known to composers. Cold Sweat provides a particularly successful example, precisely because in this piece the chords are few and predictable, while the conclusion with the suspended cadence is not predictable at all.
Despite being a less sophisticated and refined music than jazz, Rhythm & Blues is well-played music that pays attention to details and requires an exceptional ability and stamina from the singer. Cold Sweat is an excellent example of this fascinating repertoire.
Until next Monday!
Download the lead sheet of Cold Sweat