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Posted by Dan Newman on February 19 at Smartermusic (http://www.smartermusic.us):

 It’s just been stuck in my head lately. Nota, the winners of NBC’s The Sing Off, did an amazing fusion that’s been lodged in my brain of Jay Sean’s “Down”. Watch this and then check out the analysis:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MG0PiVtqLxM&feature=player_embedded

What I think is fascinating is how the lyrical vocal line is accentuated by the latin rhythms and the light backups. Oh yeah, the faux-trumpet break is pretty sweet and serves as the homerun gimmick, but the reason why Nota won was not because of nailing gimmick after gimmick (which they did, btw), but the musical choices that set up those homeruns. Each one of their performances features some ethnic flavor that makes each one stand out, but the underlying musicality is why they walked off as champs.

To use a cake metaphor…they had really good cake. Yeah, the frosting and decorations made Nota distinctive and gave them that necessary push to top the Bubs and Voices of Lee, but they developed something good and did it right, then added the buttercream to eke out the top slot. Listen closely to the arrangement and see how the ensemble works: you can easily hear the soloist, the backup hits are light, there is smart use of silence and noise, and the percussion sets up a groove and establishes a mood without overshadowing the solo. The interplay between the singers links the musical phrases (watch how one hits the splash cymbals on the VP) and the choreography has direction: “We are here. We are now moving here. We are spreading out…to do something wicked cool. We come back together.” The choreography underlines the music, rather than the other way around.

A take-away from their arrangement is the use of sustained bass notes. When the bass activates and starts jumping around, there’s a rise in the energy level, but when it’s sustained it sets up a smooth groove. Also, the root of the chord provides a strong tension with the vocal line, which sits on the dissonant 4th and 2nd scale degree a lot. Milking that tension makes it delicious when it resolves…down (b’dum, crash).

And yeah, the trumpet break is pretty ballers too.