“What’s Going On” might not be classified as funk, but the Unassuming Principle is at work here on many levels, most of all James Jamerson’s bass performance.
Jamerson, who revolutionized the electric bass and has influenced generations of players, is known for his rhythmic counterpoint and melodicism. What eludes so many of his imitators, however, is his ability to do all of it without calling attention to himself.
The experience of discovering Jamerson often creeps up on listeners. They have heard Motown hits for years, and then one day while listening to, say, “Bernadette” or “I Second That Emotion,” they think, “Wow! That bass player.” Then they start noticing the Jamerson touch alive in so many other songs. It’s as if some veil has been lifted from their ears.
What defines Jamerson’s greatness is that his playing sounds as if it is content to live beneath that veil. He is said to have recorded this particular track while lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. Whether or not it’s true, it certainly sounds as if it could be. His sound and ideas are channeled from the depths of the groove, a place the spotlight can’t reach.
Thank you for reading.