Paul Chambers – “Oleo”

Next up on the transcriptions list – Paul Chambers’s bass line on “Oleo” from the 1958 classic Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. PC is such a valuable resource for bassists, not just because he’s one of the all-time greats but also because of the effort he put into his studio sound – the story goes that he spent a long time alone in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio working on getting his bass recorded as clearly as possible, and whatever they came up with, Van Gelder was reticent to share their methods with others.

“Oleo” is particularly great in this regard, as it combines PC’s unusually clear sound with the fact that, for most of the track, he is the only person accompanying the soloist. On most of the choruses, the piano and drums only come in on the bridge, with the A sections having just Chambers walking underneath the soloist. (The full band does come in for the entirety of Coltrane’s 2nd-4th choruses, and as a result there are portions where the bass is inaudible. Because of this, I skipped those choruses in the video.)

What stands out the most to me in this bass line is his sense of perpetual motion. As the main motor powering the rhythm for most of the song, PC’s lines are constantly moving forward – almost every measure has leading tones or chromaticism that points to an arrival point, but each arrival then becomes a jumping-off point for the next destination. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he only repeats a note in two measures over the course of the entire song.

There is also some harmonic interest in his navigation of the 5th and 6th bars of each A section (traditionally a ii-V to Eb – he sometimes never arrives at the Eb, and throughout the song he avoids the common E-diminished passing chord in bar 6), and his use of ii-Vs rather than just 4 dominant chords on the bridge. The chord changes in the video are my approximations of what I think he was trying to outline on each chorus.

Enjoy the bonus bass solo on the bridge on the head out!

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