I am a big fan of a groove. Anything that can get me moving deserves at least a little adoration. As you have probably noticed, most of the music that I feature here on “Jazz Vibes” is groove-based; hip-hop music was born out of grooves, so it only makes sense that jazz/hip-hop fusions embrace that rhythmic approach.
However, there are times when hip-hop and jazz venture away from the structures of rhythm. Just take a look at free jazz or a cappella rap. Kenneth Whalum gives us an excellent example of a musical piece that focuses on something other than rhythm. From the very beginning of “Away,” the listener is met with a sparse drum track, a slow beat from just a snare and bass drum. Instead of highlighting a groove, this song puts the emphasis on the overall sonic atmosphere. Listen to the floating vocal lines, the cloudy piano comping, and the dreamy horn fills. These sounds create a mysterious soundscape that envelopes the listener in a blanket of warm, gentle vibes.
This is not your run of the mill hip-hop tune replete with aggressive, diligent drums. Instead of a “beat,” we have a soundscape, an overall atmosphere or sound environment in which the rapper operates. Even Big K.R.I.T.’s verses are not rhythmically structured in the way that we have become accustomed to when it comes to hip-hop. They are placed lightly on top of this soundscape, without strict or powerful indications of beats or bars. Everything is a smooth consolidation of sound elements that come together to make an individual musical entity. “Away” explores a completely different musical mindset, one that highlights the abstract and introspective aspects of musical thinking. Listen to this one deeply.