Spend more than 5 minutes online talking about bass, and you’ll encounter some variation on the theme of ‘groove is king‘ – the idea that the only things that matter for musicians who play bass are those that relate to the function within a normal band line up is pushed pretty hard in most contexts.
But so many of my favourite bits of creative bass playing (in my own career and from others) happen when the bass is freed up from that idea of a ‘role’ and the musician is free to contribute to the music in whatever way works best for the music. Sometimes that’s still very much within the understanding of what the bass ‘should‘ do (as with Pop Pop here) but other times it breaks away from that.
So here are 5 drummerless albums that feature some absolutely exquisite bass playing in the context of wonderful music! (as always these are in no particular order) ::
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow – Trios
Steve Swallow has one of the most singular, recognisable voices in the history of the electric bass. This trio is possibly my favourite setting for his playing ever. So much space, and his melody work is astonishing. To hear him with a drummer, have a listen to Bartalk by John Scofield. An incredible trio record with Adam Nussbaum on drums.
Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland – Angel Song
One of my desert island discs, everything about this is perfect. It was Bill Frisell that lured me in, but Dave Hollands playing here is exemplary – his tone!!! This has to be one of my favourite recorded bass sounds ever, and his solo on this (the first solo on the opening tune of the album, no less) is just perfect. The feel is beautifully relaxed throughout, particularly in the interplay between Dave and Bill during Bill’s solo. Incredible.
Duke Ellington And Ray Brown – This One’s For Blanton
Jimmy Blanton changed the way all of us think about about the role of the bass, that much is true. That he died at 23 is mindblowing and deeply tragic. I can’t imagine what he’d have accomplished had he lived. The Ellington band of the 40s that Blanton was a part of is one of the most amazing groups of musicians ever assembled. This One’s For Blanton is a fitting and rich tribute, and who better to take the bass role than one of the true greats who followed on from Blanton’s lead in making the bass such an important instrument in Jazz, Ray Brown.
I can’t embed this video, as it’s blocked on YouTube, but it has to be this track for the unbelievable solo intro, and the incredible elaboration of a standard walking line that Ray goes into – Sophisticated Lady: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZFTDxYV7ss
Paradoxicon – Gianni Gebbia And Michael Manring
This is a REALLY unusual record. for much of it, the sax is playing a more rhythmic role than the bass, particularly on the opening tune, where Michael is all texture and what groove there is is from Gianni’s sax. Some beautiful writing, and a wonderful space for Michael to explore.
Rickie Lee Jones – Pop Pop
This kind of breaks the rules, in that 3 of the tunes on the album have percussion on, but the rest of them are so great, and Charlie Haden does drummerless bass playing SO well that I had to include it. I also really wanted a great vocal record in here to show what can happen when you free bass up from the ‘groove’ obsession in a song context. Charlie Haden may well be my favourite drummerless bassist of all, every note he plays is exactly where he wants it to be. The economy of notes is counterbalanced by the obvious care and attention given to every part of every note. Astonishing.
It’s a truism that most solo bass struggles in ‘pure’ musical terms. It’s so easy to get caught up justifying our ‘right’ to play solo by doing clever acrobatic things that the meaningful deployment of those acrobatics, or the avoidance of them for more musical ends gets lost along the way, and YouTube ends up as a fumbling bass-circus.
For this reason, there are very few solo bassists in my list of musical influences. But those who are there are towering monuments to what’s possible on this amazing instrument of ours, and their influence on my music and musical outlook is massive.
So, in no particular order, here’s 5 solo bassists who shaped my musical world: [Read more →]
Recorded at Friday night’s gig at the Islwyn Guitar Club in Crosskeys, Gwent, South Wales, here are two new tunes that ‘emerged’ – they’re both improvs, but I like ‘em, so will probably have a bash at something like them for the new album…
The recordings are remarkably good considering they’re just on a little Tascam digital recorder thingie (recorded by Andrew Buckton – fab singer/songwriter who came with me, and sang beautifully on the gig too).
I’ve written a lot over the years about the power of curiosity – that most of my own best disoveries have just happened because I was interested in something and decided to investigate it without waiting for any kind external confirmation that that was ‘OK’ or ‘wise’.
So yesterday when a link from a friend landed me at xtranormal.com and I saw that there was a ‘create’ button, I set to work writing a comedy script for two people talking about a solo bass house concert.
Since then it’s had about a thousand views (pretty good going for overnight on a Sunday!), and I’m sure has quite a journey to go on yet… All because I saw a link, clicked it and played around.
Try it, sometimes it can really help
Anyway, here it is. “Solo Bass. It’s The Future.”
Feel free to share it around, or make your own videos. It’s pretty time consuming, but well worth it
[EDIT] it’s worth noting that the first place I shared this was Posterous. An awesome blogging platform, that I’ll write more about v. soon!
Since Saturday’s upload, I’ve put 2 more videos on Vimeo for your delectation and delight, which contrast the different ways that the Looperlative can be used to either simply provide a loop for a piece of music, or be integral to the way it’s created, and the sound that emerges.
I’m fascinated by the relationship between technology and end result, and by the methods that we as musicians can use to keep our own technical thoughts and experiments subservient to the greater artistic and communicative aims… [Read more →]
After the new tune I posted on Audioboo a few days ago, I’ve got the bug for uploading new tunes. Hopefully it’ll finally kick me into action to make some decisions about the kind of record (or whatever passes for a ‘record’ these days ) I want to make. [Read more →]
A few months back, I was asked to put together a list of 10 of my favourite basslines by Bass Guitar Magazine. I sent them a list of 10, and a little note about each one, but the article is now out without the little blurb. So here’s the blurb. They also numbered them, as though there’s an order to them, which there clearly isn’t. Music doesn’t work like that. and If I wrote the list again today, it’d be different.
But anyway, here’s the list, with links where possible, and a little bit about each one…
Le Freak – Chic : one of the funkiest lines ever from the Beatles Of Disco. I could’ve picked just about any of their hits. Bernard’s tone and feel are a thing of wonder. Refuge Of The Roads – Joni Mitchell : My favourite bassline from my favourite album ever. Every note Jaco plays on the whole Hejira album is sublime. Maxwell Murder – Rancid : carrying the ‘punks that can really play’ torch forward, Matt Freeman manages to be full of energy, inventive and a chops-monster at the same time. Orphans – Deacon Blue : one of the first pop songs I ever heard with chords on a 6 string bass. This is almost all just bass, voice and tambourine. Beautiful Chicken Grease - D’Angelo : Pino was The Man in the 80s, and he’s still The Man now, only instead of slide-y fretless and a curly mullet he’s the cool king of hip-hop. My whole understanding of rhythm changed when I heard this album. Selene – Michael Manring : not exactly a ‘bass line’ but without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of solo bass music ever recorded. I Keep Forgettin’ – Michael McDonald : what locking in with a kick drum is all about. Louis Johnson shows restraint, digs deep and has a bass tone to die for. Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen : My favourite ever slap line. Freddie Washington probably even has a funky heartbeat. I’m In Love - Frank Dunnery : Matt Pegg, son of Dave, basically soloing through most of this tune, in a way that sounds neither wanky nor out of place. Exceptional playing and writing. Spirits In A Material World – The Police : again, could have picked one of about 15 Police lines. Something magical happens when Sting gets with Stuart Copeland, even though they both play ‘out of time’ most of the time. Proof if ever it were needed that you don’t need protools to make incredible music.
Feel free to post your lists in the comments. Would be interested to read them. But please, don’t bother with the ‘what??? how could you miss out ********** (insert bassist here)’ – there are only 10, it’s not a definitive list, as I said it’d change now, and it’ll be different again tomorrow. So relax, and gimme a list of great lines.
I’ve been hoping this interview would surface online for a quite a while - Adrian asked a really smart set of questions and, crucially, came back with questions relating to them. Email interviews can be really dull if it’s just a questionnaire (unless it’s MEANT to be a ’20 questions’ type deal…) – because there’s no conversational flow. So as a tip for those of you interviewing online, send 2 or three questions to start with at most, preferably unrelated ones, and then develop each one with questions that follow on…
But I digress, this is about me – anyway, it’s a great interview, and I was kinda surprised at the quote in the sell that says,
‘The unexpected popularity of bass looping in the UK can largely be attributed to Steve Lawson‘,
but I guess there’s some truth in that. It’s probably just that I’m more aware of my own influences than my influence.
OK, so it’s christmas day, and I’m blogging, what of it? Happy Christmas, y’all. Hope you’re having a fun day. We certainly are here in Ohio.
Anyway, thought I’d do a quick post about my touring looping rig. Here’s the picture:
from the top we have:
Samson S-Mix (mixer) ART TubeMP Preamp
(next to it is the…) Lexicon LXP1 reverb. Looperlative LP1 looper
Lexicon MPX-G2 processor
and on top of the LXP1 we have my Ebow, G7 Capo, Slide, Sennheiser Mic and currently-missing rubbish cell phone (if you see it around, let me know, I can’t find it anywhere). The JBL speakers were provided for the house concert in Milwaukee. We don’t generally travel with speakers in the US, just find people locally to lend us things.
The signal flow is really simple – bass goes into Lexicon MPX-G2, which goes into the S-Mix, and has the ART preamp in the FX loop. Lobelia’s loop mic goes into the LXP1, and that also goes into the S-Mix, which then goes into the Looperlative. The Looperlative then goes out to the desk/PA/Speakers/whatever.
And here’s what’s happening on the floor –
The big pedal, rocked back, is the Visual Volume Pedal.
then an M-Audio expression pedal, which controls the loop volume.
Then a Rolls Midi Wizard that controls the looperlative.
then Another M-Audio expression pedal, for the MPX-G2 (sometimes wah, sometimes volume, sometimes pitch etc.)
then a Roland EV-5, for Loop feedback.
Then a Lexicon footswitch for different stuff on the G2
and finally another EV-5 for track speed on the looperlative.
Meanwhile, Lobelia is using a Roland RC-20 for much of her looping, unless I’m looping her or she’s doing improv stuff through my rig, in which case she just plugs a mic into the volume pedal and uses my bass set-up exactly as-is.
So there you go, a Christmas present in the form of some gear geekness. Post a comment with any specific questions you may have about how it all works
One of the things I most like about teaching electric bass is that very few kids are ever told by their parents to play it. ‘You need to learn piano/violin/clarinet because I never had the chance’ is the bane of so many teacher’s lives and one of the main driving forces behind kids giving up playing an instrument as soon as they are afford a degree of self determination by their parents.
In all my time teaching bass (15 years) I think I’ve had 3 students ask to do graded exams. In the same time over half the parents that have brought their kids to me have asked whether or not it would be a good idea. There’s an assumption in education these days that people a) need some kind of external certificated validation in order to measure where they are up to and b) that without that, students will lack motivation and will just slack off because no-one’s telling them what to do.
For me as a teacher it’s imperative to get across to my students - especially the younger ones – that them not practicing has no impact on me whatsoever. I can just pick up where we left off in the last lesson as though the time were continuous. The point of practice is never to placate me. Practice serves two purposes – it’s enjoyable (if done right) and you get better – the two are clearly deeply linked. The idea that practice has to be torturous is another crap hang-over from the music education of the early 20th century, where suffering was a signal of how serious you were about what you’re doing. That’s clearly bollocks, especially for people with families, friends, jobs, school work and other interests. Practice time should be valued time in and of itself not just for the pay-off. The pay-off makes it even better, but playing an instrument should be fun!
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a large degree of self-discipline, commitment and focus, it’s just that we’re selling kids short by telling them that those things can’t be enjoyable!
These are all elements in my reasoning for not following a syllabus. If a students comes into a lesson, tells me about a gig they just went to, and I then teach them something the band they’ve just seen – whether it be an actual song by them, or something that can be drawn from that music – they can pulled a little closer to the magic at the heart of music. The gap between them and the music they love is lessened and the feeling that the magic is in their reach is heightened.
At the heart of what I teach is a desire to help the student write and play music that can change the world. It might not, but the desire to play the songs that have soundtracked their life – whether that’s Mozart or Metallica, Stockhausen or Stock, Aitken And Waterman – and to then create their own music is what drives individuals to learn an instrument, and pandering to the wishes of pushy parents who want lil’ Tommy to get certificates so they can brag to the other mums and dads about the distinction he scored in his grade 3 exam is the death-knell of lil’ Tommy’s musical aspiration.
Parental encouragement is often an utterly vital and energising force in the music-life of a student. I still take inspiration from my mum’s on going encouragement of what I do, and am thankfully big enough to ignore the distain with which my dad views my musical endeavours. Channeled in the right way, parents can be integral to the musical growth of a student. But if pushy parents are allowed to ride roughshod over what Tommy actually wants to do with music, he’ll end up as one of the 95% who give up before they are 18, and may resent it for decades to come.
We’re your parents an encouragement or a hindrance to your creative path? Comments pleeeeeze