Drum Transcription: “Take It!” — Jason “JT” Thomas, Jamison Ross, & Larnell Lewis with Snarky Puppy
Posted on October 30, 2022
I know what you’re thinking: why has it taken me so long to talk about Snarky Puppy? Well, until today’s song, “Take It!”, I haven’t found the right thing to talk about!
For many, Snarky Puppy’s best album is 2014’s We Like It Here. It’s an exhilarating and adventurous record, one that’s also a bit out of control. And dare I say it, drummer Larnell Lewis sounds like he’s overplaying a bit on the LP. In some ways, I don’t really blame him; he got the gig at the last minute and was probably excited since it was a breakthrough opportunity for him. Indeed, that album introduced many people (myself included) to Larnell.
It seems like the band knew of these criticisms (or otherwise felt the same way on their own), since the next album Culcha Vulcha (2016) has a much different sound in many regards, with more precision and more restraint. While I consider it to be the best overall Snarky Puppy record (so far), I honestly feel like the band overcorrected.
Nonetheless, the group continued to head in that direction; apparently, there were some jokes online quipping that 2019’s Immigrance should have been named Eighty Beats Per Minute. Now we have Empire Central, released a few weeks ago. To be clear, there are some fabulous numbers on this album, as well as a glut of downtempo snoozers that kind of blur together; a “sloggification” as PopMatters calls it. Considering the record is 90 minutes long, several numbers could have been nixed to nobody’s loss.
I can’t deny that the intrepidness of We Like It Here hasn’t been matched after the fact, which is kind of a bummer, even if listening to that record can be an exigent experience. I haven’t bothered picking apart any of Larnell’s playing on it, since many people have already done so. Meanwhile, I haven’t been inspired to tackle any subsequent Snarky Puppy numbers for the aforementioned reasons.
But now we come to Empire Central, with the tune “Take It!”. This was a prerelease single and gained some additional traction for being the last recording done by keyboard player Bernard Wright, who appears as a guest musician on this track and died shortly after performing it.
After his solo, we get a big drum finale. The first thing to talk about in this regard is that there are three(!) drummers on this record. This is a live album mind you, so there are three drummers playing together on every tune. (Not to mention the three percussionists who are on all of the tracks as well!)
That’s a bold choice for sure (you can read an interview with the engineers to talk about how they handled three drummers all playing in the same room together). Larnell is joined by Jason “JT” Thomas and Jamison Ross. The finale essentially has the three drummers trading solos, so I decided to notate three staves for three drumset parts.
The tune has a bit of a half–time shuffle feel to it, so unsurprisingly, most of the drum solos are built around 16th note triplets with some gnarly syncopations. Check out the second measure of Jamison’s first solo, which uses a five–note triplet pattern:
I should explain the notation. Jamison uses a “snom” — a snare drum that also doubles as a tom. This isn’t quite the same as an auxiliary snare, since the snom is in the same position as (in this case) a third rack tom. I have the third tom notated with an X to prevent confusion when listening along. Larnell also uses a snom (the first floor tom in his case), but he wasn’t using it on this tune (or he at least had the snares thrown off), so no special notation there.
Jamison’s snom sounds very similar to his main snare, and I tried my best to differentiate. Snarky Puppy usually films their live albums, and thankfully for me, footage of this tune has been out for a while:
Without any visuals, this project would have been much more difficult. I probably wouldn’t have even realized he was using a snom.
All three of these drummers exemplify the gospel discipline of drumming; “gospel” being a somewhat hackneyed term to describe flashy (and somewhat enervating) linear playing. In that regard, the most intense part of the finale comes from JT’s final solo:
These two measures made up some of the wackiest transcribing I’ve done in a while, and I’m not even sure I’ve got it 100 percent correct. I used the sextuplet mainly because it’s easier to read in this context, and I turned the first note into a 16th to clean things up further. Using an 8th note pulse, just count six notes to each 8th note, with a rest on the second note:
This is a deceptively dense lick. If you watch the video, JT doesn’t look like he’s hauling on any one particular limb; very effective use of a linear orchestration.
Larnell’s flashiest moment comes in his final solo — in the following line, the fourth floor tom note is played with his left hand behind his back:
Yeah… it’s kind of goofy, and I really wish he wouldn’t. When the cameras are rolling I guess you can’t help but get a little theatrical. Larnell uses a more justifiable crossover to play the final triplet of the measure.
BTW, there is some occasional overlap between the solos, but sometimes it was basically impossible to tell what the next drummer was playing, so in those cases, I didn’t even bother.
I’ll wrap up with something neat I found: an alternate take of this song, apparently exclusive to the Japanese release of Empire Central:
It seems to be an open secret that these live albums aren’t really “live” insofar as the band rips through one song after another in a single glorious performance. For Empire Central, the band spent 8 nights recording, but the alternate takes often don’t see the light of day. Enjoy it while you can!
“Take It!” on Songwhip.