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The Roots of Timba, Pt I - 1940-El pirulero no vuelve más
Arsenio's Cuban Recordings and their Bass Tumbaos
These 26 transcriptions are arranged chronologically and chosen to show the full range of Arsenio's bass tumbao styles and to highlight some of the other magical qualities of these recordings.
notes: 0 rests: x
1940 Arsenio Rodríguez - El pirulero no vuelve más
0xx0 xx0x xx0x 0xxx 3-2 son clave
xxxx xxxx xxxx xx0x (pickup)
xx00 xx0x xx00 xx0x MIDI example
bassist: Nilo Alfonso
source: Oye como dice (out of print)
notes: This was Arsenio's very first recording under his own name, and the first Cuban recording to add conga, piano, and second trumpet to the son septeto, creating a new instrumentation that became known as the conjunto. (According to Emiliano Echeverría, Sonora Matancera began experimenting with two trumpets and piano as early as 1934). The full-blown Arsenio sound, however, is only partially realized at this point. The tempo is much faster than the later masterpieces. Lino Frias' modern, cross-rhythmic piano solo is perhaps the most forward-looking element of this track, but there's no dramatic bloque (or cierre) to connect the solo to the closing section, which itself doesn't have the dramatic layered horn and vocal parts that would characterize the "diablos" of Arsenio's later work.
The bass tumbao is a long way from the Arsenio's innovations of the mid-40s, but it's also significantly different from its pre-Arsenio antecedents. If El pirulero had been recorded by one of the early son sextetos the bass tumbao would have sounded like this:
0xx0 xx0x 0xx0 xx0x MIDI example
This rhythm, tresillo, is played on both sides of the clave. Arsenio's tumbao is also clave-neutral but it's harmonically different in a very important way. The underlined notes ( 0 ) show where the chords change, and as you can see and hear, they change right on the beat in a very European way. Now, if we remove the 3rd and 6th notes and replace them with the underlined 1st and 3rd notes, we arrive at the most common pre-timba bass tumbao - the "bombo-ponche" pattern. This idea of the bass anticipating each change in the harmony creates a wonderful and magical effect.
xxxx xxxx xxxx xx0x
xxx0 xx0x xxx0 xx0x MIDI example
To arrive at the part played by Arsenio's bassist, we add a short extra note that corresponds to the slap of the conga.
This figure, with the downbeats added back in ...became very common, first in guaracha and later in cha-cha-chá, and is still thrown in as a spice during the cuerpos of many timba cuerpos and intros.
0x00 xx0x 0x00 xx0x MIDI example
notes: Riverón begins with straight tresillo, plays the guaracha figure once at 0:05, and then repeats it several times in a row at 0:13 to accompany the "Chinese" passage.