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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

May 6th, 2008 · Comments Off on Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

Sunday’s gig with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds went very well – thanks to those of you who came along. The venue, The Brickhouse on Brick Lane in East London, was suitably strange – on three levels (ground floor and two balconies, the top one had beds on it!) and amazing food, and we had to get them to move the stage away so we’d have room to set up all our toys.

For those of you just catching up, the Dodds/Lawson/Wood trio is a project spawned by my Recycle Collective venture – when it’s running, it’s a monthly music night, featuring amazing improvising musicians spontaneously composing in different combinations. Quite a few of the combinations I assembled for it are planned to become ‘bands’ of one sort or another, but many of the musicians involved are so busy that it’ll be years before it happens.

However, the trio with Roy and Patrick is one that was so good we’ve all made it our priority. I’ve been playing with Patrick for years (he played at the first ever ‘proto-recycle’ improv gig at Greenbelt in 2005), and have been listening to Roy play with other people for just as long, particularly in Theo Travis’ band.

We did a Recycle gig at Darbucka in October last year, and then went into the studio in early December to record in the same way – just set up and start playing. Since then we’ve been mixing and editing the improvs (which has been interesting for me, as I usually don’t edit) and have come up with a record that we’re all really proud of (more news on that ASAP).

So Sunday was only the third time we’ve all played together, but the musical chemistry is amazing.

And that, for me, is what improv is all about – the ‘composition’ part is just choosing the right players. At its best it’s about getting musicians together who respect each other so much that they never feel like going with someone else’s idea is a bad thing. Musician who listen more than they shred, whose default position is deferential. It means that the music tends to evolve slowly as each new ingredient is added and the the others react to it.

So I may start with a groove, or some spacey ambience, or patrick may lay out some kind of harmonic territory on guitar or keys, and then the others react to it and the initial idea is modified, developed, morphed into a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Every time I sit down at the start of an all improv gig I wonder if we’ll have run out of ideas, if we’ll get 20 mins into the gig and just start playing a 12-bar blues or something.

One of the things on Sunday that triggered these thoughts was when the DJ who was hosting the day said he’d play a few more record and then we could ‘get up and jam’ – I was really taken aback, as I’ve never thought of this as ‘jamming’ at all.. it’s a whole other headspace to the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach that defines most ‘jamming’. It’s spontaneous composition, acknowledging that each of us as an acutely refined sense of what’s ‘good’ even when nothing is laid down to define what’s ‘right’. It’s not about finding some simple changes we can stumble through to make ourselves feel better, it’s about exploring our shared music worlds to find music that otherwise wouldn’t exisit, about listening, reacting and trying to add to what the others are bringing. This is 300% music – it’s 100% Patrick, 100% Roy and 100% me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt, playing with these guys, that my own musical vision is in anyway compromised or stunted, but I frequently feel my own playing elevated by the genius, sensitivity and creativity of the other two. We never have to ask the others to do something specific, as we each recognise that we are the masters or our own musical discipline – I know what ‘steve lawson music’ should sound like better than anyone else on the planet, and likewise Roy and Patrick. If I start telling Patrick what to play, it assumes that I know more about what he does that he knows. That’s insane.

There is, however, a deeply psychological streak running through all this, in that it takes a while to develop that kind of deep trust, to develop the ‘abandonment to the moment’ and to foster to confidence required to take the music where YOU feel it should go. With Patrick, this is part of a 6 or 7 year improvising relationship – when we first got together to play, he was rather puzzled by the idea that I didn’t want to play written songs, that I didn’t want to discuss keys and stuff, but just wanted to play. But the fruits of it is where we are now, exploring this unique shared musical space that the three of us occupy.

I’m really excited about the future of this trio, and the record release. With this, my solo stuff, the duo with Lobelia and Open Sky, I feel like I’ve got such a rich portfolio of music to work on, and feel really blessed to have the opportunity to explore the respective styles and approaches of the projects.

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Exclusive track on Reverb Nation + gig news…

May 1st, 2008 · Comments Off on Exclusive track on Reverb Nation + gig news…

I’ve FINALLY got round to adding the latest bunch of gigs to Reverb Nation. The first of which is this sunday, at the Brickhouse, on Brick Lane in London (deets below in the gig cal widget).

The gig’s with my new trio with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds – two of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to play with. I’ve just added a fan-exclusive track to the Reverb Nation page, which you can play from from the widget below if you’re already on the mailing list, or you can just sign up! Enjoy…


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Tags: gig dates · Gig stuff · Music News

Tuesday night's gig at The Spitz.

August 30th, 2007 · Comments Off on Tuesday night's gig at The Spitz.




6-String Bass

Originally uploaded by Schrollum

Got back from Greenbelt on Tuesday morning (more on that in the full GB round-up coming soon), and barely had time for anything before having to pack my stuffs up and head out the door again for the gig at the Spitz, opening for Hauschka and Max Richter. I wasn’t familiar with either musician before the show, so didn’t have any particular plan of what to play.

Before i went on, the event organiser, Ben Eshmade, was DJ-ing, playing some really really beautiful music, which inspired me to stick to the more ambient mellow end of things, so I started with Grace and Gratitude, which morphed into a more electronic drum ‘n’ bassy thing (with that slap ‘n’ pop percussion idea I’ve used on quite a few improvs). I then played Behind Every Word, again, with big improv cadenza and with Looperlative weirdness at the beginning (actually it was MIDI footo-controller weirdness thanks to a pedal getting stuck, but it meant that the loopage didn’t happen quite as planned…) – and I finished up with an improv based around Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major. Much fun, and a fine set, though I say so myself, which was very well received. Hauschka’s music was beautiful prepared piano stuff, quite minimalist for the most part, and his stage persona was most endearing. Max Richter had a two person string section with him and a laptop, and played ice-cool piano-scapes, with lots of vocal samples and backwards stuff. Lovely, if a little to far to the blue end of the colour spectrum (I’m a hapless romantic, don’t you know ;o) )

All in a fine evening (including a delish curry on Brick Lane with Lo, Sarda and Kari). But I’m now knackered and definitely in need of some time off!

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · music reviews

What a bizarre day of contrasts…

July 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on What a bizarre day of contrasts…

So, today started well – a trip to Guildford, to the ACM to give a masterclass to their degree students on self promotion and marketing. Much of it was about readjusting their expectations regarding what is likely to be an income stream and what isn’t, and where to put your energies in terms of your attempts at promotion – ie. musical contacts and gigs = good, myspace friends lists with a million bands on that don’t even know who you are = bad. Lots of talk about where we discover new music, where we find things, and what we feel inspired to buy and to go and see live. A successful morning.

Lunch with head of bass Stefan Redtenbacher, drum tutor and old friend Stuart Roberts and fellow visiting lecturer of the day, Terl Bryant. Great peoples one and all.

Home for a few hours, then out to teach. New student in east london, good lesson, but the place where he’d said I was fine to park wasn’t… AND I GOT CLAMPED!!! And not by the local council, not for blocking a drive or taking up a much needed space. No, by some venal scumbag private clamping firm, who charged a £100 release fee. It felt like my car had be broken into – there were no visitors parking spaces that I could see (and clearly even the non-car owning residents hadn’t read the signs about the parking, that’s how well displayed they were) but there were also hardly any cars belonging to residents.

If I get a normal parking ticket for running over, or chancing it somewhere, fair enough – that’s £30, you pay it, it’s a shame, but whatever. Not on private estates in Tower Hamlets. Oh no, there trainee nazis dole out clamps… Has there ever been a more self-defeating device than the wheel clamp. You not supposed to park here, so we’ll IMMOBILISE YOUR CAR – huh??? you’ll keep me stuck in the place I’m not supposed to be. Surely if I’m not supposed to be there, there’s a reason why I shouldn’t be, like it’s blocking something, or I’m taking someone’s much needed space. No, that’s all bollocks, it’s just a bunch of bastards who clamp for fun. Like wasps who according to legend sting just for fun (how on earth do you measure the fun quota of anything in a wasp? or for that matter, a clamper…)

To be fair, the kids who came to unclamp it were obviously in their first job, just trying to get on, clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable at what their role was, and the one kid did try his absolute best to get the stickers of the windscreen without leaving any residue behind. Do the firm give them any solvent to remove the sticky stuff? do they fuck.

I wonder what the legality is of carrying around bolt-cutters and removing it yourself? I’m pretty certain that their jurisdiction can’t extend beyond the private property they operate on. The stickers all say ‘it is an offense to try and remove the clamp’ – but lots of things are an offense. Celine Dion is an offense, Kevin Costner films are an offense. Neither sadly are in any way officially criminal acts.

I ought to just put a big notice on my car saying ‘it is an offense to clamp this car’ – I’m fucking offended by it! filthy scum. Why on earth is it legal? It’s a disaster waiting to happen – you need the car to take someone to hospital, to escape a mugger, to do all kinds of things, and some tosser has come round and chained a bloody great metal triangle to your wheels… grrrrrrr, it makes me so annoyed! (can you tell) – and it’s not as if I’ve got a spare £100 to just throw away on such trivial bollocks.

Anyway, the evening ended on a much brighter note (well, not that much brighter, seeing as I’d forgotten my ordinary glasses when I left home so was wandering around Brick Lane at 11 o’clock wearing sunglasses – who’s the twat trying to look like Bono? That’ll be me then…) – it ended with the lovely Showbiz (or whatever the name is that I’ve given her this week), and Chambers, then back to casa showbiz for mac-geekness and ladies’ tea.

clamped??????

Tags: Random Catchup

Marcus Miller at The Bass Centre

July 3rd, 2006 · Comments Off on Marcus Miller at The Bass Centre

Got an email last week from the lovely Nick at the Bass Centre telling me about the Marcus Miller clinic they were hosting last night.

The Bass Centre normally hold their clinics in the shop, but the take-up for the clinic was far to high, and they moved it to a local pub. I’ve chatted about this with a few people, and other than Victor Wooten, can’t think of any other band-leader/bassists that would draw that kind of crowd for a clinic. Even big names like Doug Wimbish, who did the last Bass Centre clinic, can’t compete with that…

The pub was packed, and Marcus played a handful of tunes (starting out with Run For Cover, a tune from David Sanborn’s album Voyeur that I haven’t heard since I was at college!) and answered questions. His natural sense of humour and passion for music comes across really well in this kind of setting, and the audience lapped up every demonstration.

These kind of events are always a great chance to catch up with friends, meet other bassists, and generally hang out with bass-people. this was no exception – the guys from the Bass Centre, Alex from The Gallery, Steve Davis, Mike Brookes, John East…

The gig was organised by Fender with the Bass Centre, and Fender UK’s AR head is an old friend from Ashdown days, Hoda – I so rarely get to see Hoda, he’s a v. busy man, so getting a chance to catch up was fab. The other lovely surprise was bumping into Pris from Holland – she helped organise the UK Bass Day last year, and is on tour with Marcus’ band doing merch.

Come the end of the night, Hoda, Pris, Marcus, BeBe (sp?) and I hadn’t eaten, and where else is there to go from the Bass Centre but over to Brick Lane for a curry – Chutney’s did the business, and much lovely food and chat was to be had. Then, like Bruce Cockburn in the song ‘Coldest Night Of The Year’ I ‘drove all the people home, I was the one with the car’.

A fun evening all round.

Tags: Musing on Music

Two days with Sarda and Kari

May 29th, 2005 · 1 Comment

Not having seen Sarda and Kari since the day after their wedding last October, in Grand Rapids, it was a real treat to get to see them two days running this weekend. Friday night we met up at the commuter jazz at the RFH, and from there walked to Brick Lane to meet The Cheat and The Producer Formerly Known As Showbiz Jude for a curry. Much fun was had, especially with The Cheat surruptitiously turning off the TVs in the restaurant with his new toy – a remote control that will turn off just about any brand of TV in the world!

Saturday was S and K’s official big party, at Sarda’s parents’ place in Tunbridge Wells. Again, much fun, especially discovering that James is in fact the son Ned Flanders, or at least was til his dad went grey and shaved off his moustache! A startling likeness.

The most obvious thing from the visit is just how uninterrupted my friendship with Sarda has been by him moving overseas – we chat just as often now as we did before on MSN or AIM, so it’s not like some big emotional reunion, just a chance to talk face to face instead of typing or the occasional video conference.

Tags: Uncategorized

mini-tour report.

May 18th, 2004 · Comments Off on mini-tour report.

Dropped Muriel Anderson off at Stansted airport this afternoon, after three gigs with her over the weekend, and three very fine gigs they were.

First up was Lauderdale House in Highgate, part of the acousticmasters.com summer concert series – it was especially nice to catch up with Mo Foster who dropped in to say hi before the gig, and to meet Terry and Hugh who organised the concert series. Performers on the small club venue level rely on a select group of dedicated, generous magic people who put lots of effort into making great music available to concert goers, and Hugh and Terry fit that category. Hugh’s a marvellous guitarist in his own right, and you can catch his at one of the future concerts at Lauderdale… Anyway, the gig went well to a ‘select’ audience, who were very generous in their CD and DVD buying :o)

Saturday was a day off, and a chance for Muriel to see a bit of London (after I dragged her down to Brick Lane for Sarda‘s leaving curry) – the small person and I took Muriel to see Trafalgar Square, Downing Street , The Houses of Parliment Big Ben, Westminster Abbey etc. before walking back along the south bank of the Thames for coffee in the National Theatre…

Sunday was the second of our gigs, this one was at the Ship Theatre, Sevenoaks in Kent, and was part of the Sevenoaks guitar festival, organised by another one of these marvellous promoter people, John Levett. The Ship is a gorgeous theatre, part of a private school, with tremendous acoustics and a lovely listening audience. Muriel and I got to do more duet stuff, experiment with a few improv things as well as playing on eachother’s tunes, and much fun was had by all!

And finally, Monday was back at Traders in Petersfield, promoted once again by the truly marvellous Stiff Promotions – if only every small town in the UK had its own Iain Martin, I’d be touring constantly. Thanks to Iain and Jeff who owns the venue, Traders has a fantastic program of live music, this being my third visit there this year, having played solo and with Michael Manring. As with both my previous Traders gigs, this one was sold out, and Muriel and I did even more duet stuff and improv, definitely boding well for future collaborative stuff.

So a marvellous three gigs. My new mixing desk arrived on Friday morning, so this gave me a chance to try it out, and my setup of Accugroove 110 cabs, QSC poweramp and Mackie Desk worked beautifully for Muriel’s guitar. I’ve never played through another bass rig that could reproduce the sound of an acoustic guitar as faithfully as this!! Amazing stuff.

On the bad news front, Muriel and I found out just before we started the tour that our mutual friend, Eric Roche has just been diagnosed with cancer of the saliva gland. Eric is an oustanding fingerstyle acoustic guitarist, teacher and music journalist, so our careers have followed similar paths in lots of ways, Muriel and I visited Eric today, and he’s doing really well – he’s an amazing guy (his marvellous music makes even more sense when you meet him). Please pray for him, if that’s something you do. And to aid you in your prayers, you should get his latest CD, ‘With These Hands’ – I’m listening to it at the moment and it’s beautiful. He’s playing in Brighton tomorrow night, and has a few other gigs around before he goes for surgery in a couple of weeks time, so catch him live or get the CD, or both. His new CD can be bought here from Amazon (sorry, couldn’t find a small shop that had it listed…) and his site has details of his other CDs. Go get ’em.

Soundtrack – right now, Eric Roche, ‘With These Hands’. earlier on, Denison Witmer, ‘Philadelphia Songs’ (he’s playing in London this week, hoping to catch him at the Windmill in Brixton on Sunday); Nick Harper, ‘Double Life’; Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, ‘One From The Heart’; Ralph Towner/Gary Peacock, ‘A Closer View’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Travelogue’; James Taylor, ‘October Road’.

Tags: Uncategorized