Musical Economy: Doing More with Less (Bill Withers clip)

See here: a 70’s performance of Bill Withers playing Use Me.

I came across this while looking for a clip of the song for another thread over in IMHO.

But - just listen to this. You’ve got an acoustic, an electric, a bass, drums and a guy playing the main riff on clavinet/keyboards (and god what a great tone - like Stevie Wonder for Superstitious).

Simple instrumentation - and the guys all look so cool and laid back that I am surprised they aren’t falling off their stools asleep - but damn if they aren’t totally locked in and don’t completely fill up the space. And that electric guitar gets to wander just enough to be the spice in the mix, adding a harmonic line to the keyboard riff or a bit of a lick right after Withers sings a line.

And his voice. Jeez what an instrument.

That is all. It looks like what they are doing is as easy as riding a bike - and I am here to tell you: it most certainly is not. And boy is that a bike I want to be riding. :wink:

One of my favorite songs. And that bossa-nova-like beat really works.

For me this is the ultimate -

She’s Got a Way

Billy Joel does this with only a piano and a voice - just so much depth of emotion. Never fails to move me.

Thanks for posting that clip. I’m not a musician, or particularly musically knowledgeable, so I don’t have anything to add to this topic.

I will say though, when the topic of “perfect albums, from start to finish” comes around again in this forum, I will have to remember to mention Withers’s Still Bill in the thread.

And the drummer grooves it using a rimshot and high hat with a little light snare (in non-musical terms - he sets the beat with virtually nothing/very simple percussion parts). And while his eyes are hidden by his shades, you see him just. barely. smile. a few times when the groove is* just so*…

I’m thinking now it’s more of a samba rhythm.

It makes my backbone slide; that’s all I care about. :wink:

Nice thread! I love this tune, too, and only recently learned its name. It’s one of those groovy songs from that era (disco, groove, funk, whatever) when I wasn’t all that much into the sub-genre enough to know performers and tunes but just liked the sound whenever I heard it, on the radio mostly. Not too long ago I was listening to a “smooth jazz” station online and it came on and the player (streaming audio) showed the name along with Withers’. I immediately went to YouTube and “favorited” a clip of it. I must have added another dozen or so from that same station over the next few days.

One I have particularly enjoyed hearing over and over is FANTASY (Version Salsa) Earth Wind & Fire which has precious little to do with the main theme of this thread. But one I heard within the past couple of weeks is Metallica-Enter Sandman (Smooth Jazz Version) induced me to track down Andy Does “Enter Sandman” and marvel at how much (with so little) is going on here.

But the recent death of George Shearing sent me on a collecting spree of his things. In keeping with the main idea of this thread, I suggest GEORGE SHEARING playing IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND as a near perfect example of the more with less concept.

Nice entry - it’s funny, but that is not an example I would cite for this thread, based on what I was thinking about, but I love the clip.

What I was thinking about is when a small number of instruments fill in the space to sound “thicker” that they already are, i.e., realizing that The Who are only guitar, bass, drums and vocals and yet over-the-top thick and huge. The fact that the Bill Withers clip fills up the sound without having to…go as over the top as, say, The Who was my point.

But that Shearing clip - what I would cite there is his command and his taste. He fills up the sound with solo piano because he owns both the overall pacing of the piece and his interpretation of the melody. He sounds like he is choosing to hit each note *just so *- so there is a personal statement being made - and yet it doesn’t sound precious, or George Winston “special” :rolleyes: - it sounds like a master player who knows when to hit the notes. Thanks for sharing.

You’re welcome for the sharing, and I obviously didn’t catch your main point. For clarification’s sake, how would you regard the Miles Davis nonet’s efforts in the Birth of the Cool sessions? My understanding of those compositions is that they were peeling all the layers off the big band sounds of the day and stripping them down to essentials. As examples from that album I’d offer Miles Davis - Rocker or Miles Davis - Rouge or almost any of the tunes from that album.

Just wanting to see if I’m on your main track here.

From a harmony standpoint, yes - the large harmonic structures of a big band arrangement are stripped down and “played small” - capturing the outlines of the harmonies without filling them in with all the horns. And then the high-hat kicks in laying down a groove and the soloists are off to the races.

in the OP, I was trying to point out how some arrangements leave a lot of space in the mix and yet sound very full - the Miles examples do that, but because of the type of music, don’t have as much of a groove - and that was an element I was highlighting in the Bill Withers example.

As another example of a song with a lot of space in it, I would cite Vampire Weekend’s Campus which sounds like it has a lot more parts than it really has…or Walking on the Moon by the Police

How close is this to what you’re trying to find words for: Herbie Hancock - Butterfly?

Not close - not that there is anything wrong with that! :wink:

Lots of ambient sounds and washes in that track. I am trying to speak to a 1+1=3 quality where if you listen to each track, you realize there are very few used to make up the sound. I hear a lot of extra sounds in that song.

There are quite a few dead links by now in Best Beats in Music – with audio where I became aware of the distinction between “beat” and “groove” for trying to describe that aspect of music. I had hoped to locate some outstanding examples of such things in that thread.

I suppose the way those words fail to get at the precision one may be after keeps musical discussions more in the realms of tastes and preferences than in anything clinical and unambiguous. Still, it’s fun to try to “find the groove” in such exchanges of opinions and ideas about music.

I’m still trying to think of examples of what I think you mean.

One aspect that has always intrigued me is that there are some recordings where you may try to hum or vocalize some song or other and find that your version includes sounds that aren’t really there in the original when you listen back to it. That’s one way I interpret your “1 + 1 = 3” notion. One example of that that comes to mind is Miles Davis Tutu (you can probably tell that Miles has/had a way of getting into my head.)

Miles is amazing - I own more Miles CD’s than anyones.

I have a cold right now so I am not at the top of my game. Let me think about this.

Try listening to songs like U2’s With or Without You or Soundgarden’s My Wave - a bombastic song, but both have a lot of internal space. Joy Division’s stuff was that way, too. I tend to look for that quality less in jazz - maybe with Miles’ Sketches of Spain type of work, which is minimalist but sounds almost epic in scope…