stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Review – solo gig, St Luke's London (Misfit City)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“Drawn by the call of bass, I’m chilling here – it’s cold inside the nave of this small church tucked away by Holloway Prison. Were he American, Steve Lawson would be filling Stateside theatres on the progressive-instrumental circuit. But he’s British, and aiming at a gap in the market that the industry’s done its best to squeeze shut (or suffocate with endless minor variations on “Tubular Bells”). And, consequently, he has to plan and implement his own events from the ground up and in out-of-the-way places.

At least St Lukes is a fine place tonight. Flickering tea-lights, sofas and chairs, lovely acoustics and clean tall white walls to carry the visual multi-media provided by the Sparks collective. Long shots of bus travel and busy campuses fill one wall, a cartoon tribute to Lawson’s trippy bass guitar music along another, and TV screens frame inert men lolling in armchairs. Negative homilies manifest quietly on walls – “Once bitten, unlikely to trust anyone ever again”; “Failure is inevitable, therefore I will never even try to begin anything”. Jolly animations of dancing subway signs and jostling cells inhabit one corner. From another a muted, indistinct babble of voices seeps out of three detuned radios to wind around our chair legs. Once again, I find myself part of an installation (tonight, Matthew, I’m the saggy off-colour bit up near the front).

By all appearances, Steve Lawson’s pretty much marked for bass guitar playing. He looks like a frighteningly convincing young Geddy Lee from a Rush tribute band, and he sounds much like Michael Manring – the clusters of ringing-bell harmonics, the use of E-Bow sustainer and the glutinous pining tone of his six-string fretless. But he’s very much his own musician, and one capable of taking on any of the American virtuosi on equal terms. A live shot of Steve Lawson (photo by Edward Eldon) His playing has elements of other remarkable bassists (Victor Wooten’s bubbling folk-song lines, the inevitable Pastorius, Eberhard Weber, the aforementioned Manring, plus every now and again a moment of cyclic Stuart Hamm tap-and-hold). His improvised melodies, though – allied to the upside/downside/back-to-front timbral inventions and the multi-layered looping fed through his small garrison of effects pedals – make for an assertive and individual new voice.

Lawson’s milieu is a translucent psychoactive landscape of sound that tugs at old memories of water, of night, of the hypnotic rapture of nature; as close to the ethereal electronic/acoustic embrace of Cipher or BJ Cole’s Transparent Music as it is to the inevitable Frippertronics. As he duets with himself on soprano-calling E-bowed lines, plucks crisp sophisticated little riffs, or feeds in a ribbon of backward-processed Chinese Opera or Turkish trumpet tones (which he’s quietly played and tweaked only moments before), it’s both captivating and enveloping. He makes unnerving harmonised passages of scrunched sound like a passing swarm of disgruntled operatic bats. Or manufactures and introduces his own complex thump of trance-techno beats on the spot, mixing them in carefully to evolve a questioning jazz solo into a dance-music leap. All part of a weave of rich underwater reverb and freeflowing textures (or, as the man himself puts it, “weird stuff”) which molds itself to the warming air in the church.

There’s always a sense of audience in this guy’s playing; always a feel for melody and placement, and – incredibly, for a loop gig – no straying into pretentious or tedious noodling. The continually morphing but almost hummable “Drifting”, in particular, seems to last for most of the evening, yet never once feels dull or overstretched. Everything is considered carefully as it’s played – you can see him thinking, nose wrinkled and fingers hovering – and if the improvising is slow, laid-back and eminently accessible, it’s also consistently inspired and knows where to move to. There’s humour here too – the string-click that turns into an amplified lipsmack, or the way Steve spends half a minute constructing a fresh set of rhythm, harmony, melody and texture loops almost from scratch to make a perfectly harmonised melodious group arrangement… and then casually strolls to the toilet for a few minutes, leaving a squad of virtual-bassists to calmly play on without him. Had you been looking down, you’d’ve have missed his absence entirely. A honeycombed version of an old standard (“Blue Moon” – warm, graceful and far from blue cheesiness) connects back to traditional jazziness, but Steve Lawson’s very much a modern player: a full-on ear-bather in love with the luxury of de-e-e-e-p sounds, but suspicious of waste, thank God.

For the second half, Lawson brings on Harry Napier (on elegantly melodic cello) and Mark Lloyd (on compact percussion rig), pulls himself out of the ultramarine and the innerspatial, and plonks himself down into a more mannered realm. Specifically, New Chamber Music: that tidy, definition-elusive, very white stream of fusion, factoring in classical, jazz and folk idioms, and best illustrated by Napier’s correct and serene improvisations over a little loop of Bach. Half of the mighty loop rig is switched off, to be replaced by group approaches and music overlapping into aspects of Windham Hill (the muso cleanliness of The Montreux Band) or ECM (the more melodious, commercial side of Oregon or Paul Winter). And as the trio course through versions of Pat Metheny/Charlie Haden’s “Spiritual” (written by Charlie’s son Josh, indie people – he of the noir-ish, string-laden Spain) and Bill Frisell’s “That Was Then”, you can tell that their spiritual home’s the panelled confines of the QEH or Carnegie rather than the Jazz Cafe or a proggie hangout. It sometimes edges too far in a polite direction, but for slow-cooking group playing it’s tough to fault.

In a less intimate setting, Andy Thornton would’ve looked like this… After this, former Big Sur songwriter Andy Thornton – over in the coffee lounge, in low light – is a fine comedown, and no let-down either. A camply mellow presence with a nice line in dry wit, working with strong roadstepping acoustic guitar and a voice that pitches a little lopsided but hits the emotional target dead on, his is the necessary music to complement the wordlessness of Lawson and co. Songs with soft sides and late wisdom about love and ageing, performed in a number of personas from the petulant (“She Won’t Talk To Me” – “once you say you love them, then you’re shown the door”) to the hyperreal. Fine-tuning his guitar, Thornton announces “this is about a random shepherd sitting on a hill, contemplating physics; and this is what he wrote” – and follows up with a spiralling love song full of dramatic metaphysical jumps of scale and perspective. Later, he’ll sing something with the same driven blend of voyeurism and thwarted intimacy as “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, giving us permission to laugh at the first line (“I wish I was a girl of 21”) but daring us to giggle at the sympathy and jealousy emerging from there on in. Another dark horse talent revealed. This church is broader than I thought.

– DANN CHINN

Tags:

In Conversation – Steve Lawson & Michael Manring (2000)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“SL – Michael, when you started playing solo bass, there was very little repetoir, and certainly very few precedents for people making a career out of it, or doing whole live gigs like that – who inspired you and what were the pivotal events in your coming to a position where playing solo was a viable option? Can you remember your first ever completely solo gig?

MM -In the beginning my primary inspiration for wanting to play solo bass gigs was just that I loved the sound of the instrument and I thought it really should be heard in an unadorned format where all of its subtle colors could be appreciated. In terms of context, I drew a lot of inspiration from the steel string guitarists who were out there doing solo shows. It was also exciting to hear how solo artists in the jazz realm like Joe Pass or Bill Evans, could instantly take their music anyplace they wanted to – changing tempo, arrangement or dynamics on the fly. Working with Michael Hedges was at tremendous inspiration for me because his whole solo concept was so clear and focused. His solo performance was totally engaging on many levels and experiencing that strengthened my resolve to work with the possibilities of bass as a solo instrument in spite of the opposition that so many folks seemed to have to the idea. I had no idea if anyone would ever want to listen to what I was trying to come up with, but I just felt an overwhelming need to try.

A lot of my pivotal experiences came from composing new pieces or coming up with new concepts. Many of my early pieces were both too hard to play and not terribly appealing to listen to, so it took a while for me to gather enough repertoire to feel like I could give a convincing solo performance. I felt I had to come up with something that was simultaneously interesting and entertaining in order to be viable and to keep from boring everyone to tears. With the prejudice that seemed to exist against the idea of solo bass I figured it really had to be good to work! I’m still trying to find ways to make solo bass more intriguing to an audience.

Throughout the early eighties I had been doing a lot of shows where I would play one or a few solo pieces as part of a larger program, but my first real solo show was in California sometime around 1985. I was just finishing up my first solo record and I remember playing the title track, “Unusual Weather,” “Longhair Mobile” and “Thunder Tactics.” At that time I was living in New York, but I was so impressed with how open and apparently unfazed Californians seemed to be to the whole idea of solo bass that I decided to move here!

Now one for you: I’m fascinated by being alive in this time when we have access to technology that we can use to expand the scope of what’s possible in music. There are pitfalls of course, and I enjoy trying to maintain a balance of sort of high- and low-tech approaches. You have integrated technology into your concept in such an effective way. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this. What are the positives and negatives? Do you have a philosophy or directive you use to decide how to use a particular tool?

SL – That’s a fantastic question! I too am really excited by the possibilities, but am at times overawed by the scope of the technology, both to be an amazing tool, but also to mask the creative process by constricting things. This is particularly true with looping, as the parameters are, on the surface, very clearly defined. So with every new bit of equipment, I allow myself plenty of time to get to know it before subject an audience to it – working with it for hours, and thinking about what’s possible with it, and also just improvising and seeing how it responds to a random element. Nearly all of my best ideas have been mistakes, or at least the product of random events! So my philosophy is to explore the parameters… actually I use a permutation approach that I was messing around with before but which was solidified by watching your video! I took what you were doing with notes on the neck and applied it to the JamMan, exploring all the functions in different combinations. I’ve recently got a Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro, which is an unbelievable bit of technology. I’m taking my time to work through all the functions, seeing how they widen my technical options when performing solo, then seeing if they open up new arrangement possibilities for tunes that I’ve been playing for some time. I’m certainly discovering how I can take ‘cell’ musical ideas – fragments of melody or chord sequences – and allow the possibilities of the technology to inform where it goes next. I’m currently using 4 unsync’d loop boxes – the Gibson EDP, Lexicon JamMan, Line 6 DL4 and Lexicon MPX-G2, which gives me loads of possibilities for shifting soundscapes, and the option of recording lines early on in a piece and then triggering them at various times. So is that a well formulated philosophy? I’m not sure!

MM – I really liked what you said about how you sort of “encounter” a new device. Isn’t it fascinating how, at some point certain tools go from being “toys” to being “instruments.” The only real difference is in the intention of the user, I think. There’s a tendency to think of an instrument as being something necessarily complex and/or subtle, but just the other day I was playing with a bansuri player and I was surprised to see what a very simple instrument it is — just a basic wooden tube with a few strategically placed holes. I’ve always been very moved by the sound of the bansuri and in the hands of someone like Hariprasad Chaurasia it seems infinitely deep. It’s an intriguing thought that almost anything can be an instrument of expression as long as the user has the creativity and imagination to bring it to life. For some folks, electronic effects might just be gimmicks, but you use them to expand the scope of your expressive palette.

SL – On a similar theme, how did your relationship with Joe Zon of Zon Guitars develop and how did the new technical advances of The Hyperbass change the way you write and perform?

MM – In answer to your question, The Hyperbass was an interesting project in that my concept for what I wanted to do with it was pretty well formed before the instrument was constructed. Normally, like you, I usually take a somewhat reactive approach to a new piece of gear — check it out and see what it can do and then start to form a concept around that. In the case of The Hyperbass though, I had been goofing around with things like changing tunings (by turning tuning keys) while I was playing for a while and I wanted to find someone who was interested in building an instrument that would help facilitate that. Turning the keys is fine and all, but it just seemed like there were better, more complete ways to accomplish the task. Everybody who I talked to pretty much thought I was crazy except Joe. In fact, he had a few crazy ideas of his own to toss into the mix! By the time The Hyperbass was finished, I knew just what I wanted to do with it and the first couple of compositions came together very quickly. More recently though, I’ve been having fun finding ways to play it that I never thought would work. Slapping, for instance – I never thought it would even be possible to slap on it because the fingerboard is so long, but I find I’ve been developing a kind of percussive technique based on slap that has really been capturing my imagination lately. I guess it’s that limitations and quirks thing again — I can’t do the typical kind of slapping on The Hyperbass, so that has led me into trying to develop a different kind of style based on slap, but with its own idiosyncrasies. Joe and I have many other design ideas we’re anxious to explore, but sadly it’s hard to find the time and money for it as not that many folks are interested in that type of thing. However, I’m a long, long way from having tapped out the possibilities of The Hyperbass. I’m learning more about it, and more from it everyday.

It’s so interesting too, how sometimes it’s limitations that set us free. There’s that old saying, “limitation is the basis of style” and I think there’s truth to that. Sometimes it’s the quirks of a piece of gear that really give it a defining character. I wonder how you conceive of the boundaries of your instrument. It seems to me that you have incorporated the electronics seamlessly and integrally into the identity of the instrument. Is that true or do you think of the instrument ending at the output jack and everything else as accoutrement? How about the amp and speakers? Cables, even?!

SL – In that respect, I began to think about and conceptualize what I do in a different way after you mentioned that you see bass as being a fusion of acoustic and electric – that the sound is as acoustic in origin as any amplified acoustic instrument. It’s just the degree to which you choose to mess with it – volume is a parameter to be altered just like any other. It’s true that my approach to what I play and how is greatly affected by the gear that I’m using – I’m kind of in awe of guys like yourself who can just sit down and play beautiful music without the need for extra processing – I guess once I got into the processing thing, it sort of attached itself to my whole music making ethos. I still occasionally sit down and try to write completely solo pieces, but I think in layers and textures as much as I do harmony and melody. Sound is my fundamental element in music, not the usual trinity of melody, harmony and rhythm – what I do with that sound is in service of it, rather than the other way round. So in that respect, the electronics the amp, and yes, even the cables have an influence!

MM – Another question for you: I know you have an interesting balance of improvisation and pre-composition in your music. How important is improv in what you do and what different approaches to it do you take? Are there any pieces that you play verbatim?

SL – The balance varies from day to day and gig to gig – improv is vital to that process of allowing randomness into it, and honing my own ability to react and respond to chance events in the music. So even with pieces that are composed, I still tend to flip part of it back to front at some point, or pick a sound I’ve not added in there before, just to go somewhere else with it.

‘The Inner Game’, from my first CD is about as composed as it gets, in that it has an initial loop, opening melody, and a couple of other additions to the loop that are always the same, and then the rest of it is like a jazz tune – soloing over the form. From there, there’s a pretty smooth continuum (cool title for a tune, perhaps? :o) all the way to ‘hit it and see what happens’ at the completely random end, where I not only randomize the pitch and rhythm, but also the techniques, experimenting with whatever idea comes to mind and trying to make it work. I’m also in the middle of an obsession with duo improv at the moment, as I love the conversational aspect, and the give and take, response, direction and comedy of the whole thing – that’s totally the thinking behind the new CD with Jez Carr… I’m planning a whole series of them, recontextualising what I do, in conversation with various improvisers. You seem to work with both extremes – strict composition and free improv, and from listening to your improv projects, you also take ideas that emmerge in improv and develop them into tunes. Do you view improv as a compositional tool or a separate event? How much continuing development goes into the heavily composed tunes? The Enormous Room seems to have space (haha!) for you to react in the moment, and reorder some bits of it, no?

MM – I really like how you are working on expanding the parameters of music. I always feel lucky to be working in music at this time when we have so much control over timbre. It really used to be a subordinate quality after melody, harmony and rhythm, but it’s almost like we get to discover a new world and make new rules (or choose not to make rules!). What a great idea to approach it from the angle of layers, too. Now that you mention it, I really see how your music is structured that way. Of course, you have the timbral imagination and palette to make it work. And all of it originating from what most folks would consider a highly unlikely instrument – because I think most “civilians” see bass as very monochromatic. That’s when art is really fun — when it surprises you, opens up your sense of what’s possible, fires your imagination and delights you all at once. It’s fun to experiment with improvisation, too. For so long in the West, improv has meant jazz blowing over chord changes, but there are so many other options. Timbral improv is a really intriguing idea! I went through a phase when I wanted to avoid improv in my solo concept because I felt like it was kind of a competitive thing. I just have a need to be contrary sometimes, and although I grew up in the jazz tradition I wanted to just go out and play my tunes to allow me to focus all my attention on phrasing, dynamics, articulation, tone, intonation, etc. Sometimes even great improvisers skimp on those areas because the intellectual demands of improv are so great. But these days, like you, I’m really enjoying doing a lot of improv and looking for different improvisation concepts. In playing solo, the improv possibilities are so vast — all the interpretive things I mentioned before, but also tempo, form, etc. before you even get into thinking about playing different notes! And of course, your timbral improv idea is a whole other realm. I also vary the improv in my solo shows like you do. I have some tunes like “Adhan,” which are just sort of general sets of tendencies and parameters for improv while others are pretty much through composed. I always look for what kind of improvisation a piece seems to want to entertain. For a long time I’ve felt that there were some interesting improv possibilities in “The Enormous Room,” and once in a while I find some, but I’m still searching for the methodology for that one. I just listen as deeply as I can to see if I can hear what a piece tells me it wants to do. I agree the duo thing is strong, too, especially in an improv context. It’s interesting how the smallest numbers sometimes seem to have the most significance. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between 14,758 and 14,759 for instance, but the difference between 1 and 2 is huge. Compared to other numbers they are so strange that they’d seem almost surreal if they weren’t so common. (Sorry for the tangent!) In any case, I really look forward to hearing your other interactive projects. Will you keep the same basic premise or do you think you will alter the concept when you have other personalities to interact with?

SL – That numbers idea is a good one – on that theme, I often find that the strangest of thoughts and ideas can influence the way I think about, approach and therefor play music – a single word, such as ‘permutation’ can lead me down a whole other path in a way that affects me far more than messing around with a new scale or whatever would.

For the duo stuff, I guess it will depend on who I’m playing with, and what the sum of their musical journey brings to the project. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I do, but I can be quite forceful in a musical setting like that, which is one of the reasons why on ‘Conversations’, I only used the Line 6 DL4 for all the looping – otherwise, I’d be in danger of drowning out the piano, or just not listening in quite the same intense way as I was able to with the music more open texture that we developed. I have a duo with a a keyboardist/guitarist called Patrick Wood, and what we do it much more heavily layered – I’m using my whole solo set up, and he’s playing keys and guitar, sometimes at the same time! I’m also about to start work with a vibraphonist, which brings it’s own set of unique creative limitations to a project, that will hopefully inspire some new music in me.

MM – On that general train of thought, I’d love to hear your ideas about the concept of “experimental” music. As far as I know, no one has really quite done what you are doing, so you are in a new artistic place. Do you think of it as “experimental” or do you find the term inappropriate? Or is it just a matter of semantics that has nothing to do with actual music making?

SL – I think semantics have everything to do with music, so your perception of the labels that are put on you really impacts the music. ‘Experimental’ is a term with a heck of a lot of baggage. It’s a label I’ve used for my stuff a few times just for ease of use, but there seems to be within in a connotation of it being unmelodic or ‘hard work’, which anyone listening to my first album would be hard pushed to find – a lot of what I’ve done up until now has been conceptually experimental, but harmonically a bit more ‘inside’.

When it comes to labeling or describing what I do, I find that really well written reviews can give me a new insight into my own music! I had one recently from a guitarist/writer in LA who seemed to understand what I was doing and where I was going almost more than I did, and it allowed me to think about what I did in a freer way.

I do think we need some new labels for what’s happening now – the labels that related to jazz and to electronica in the 60s and 70s don’t work for much of what’s happening now – I’m certainly not playing ‘free jazz’ or ‘fusion’ – I think something like ‘open adventurous improv’ would work for me – it carries no history, is very open ended stylistically, but contains a description of the intent of the musicians – to improvise something new, which does ‘need’ to be really weird – or what a violinist I knew described as ‘squeaky gate music’ – but can easily switch from nice harmony to full on noise if that’s where the musicians take it. Again, the duo format allows for a sense of dialogue that isn’t really available anywhere else. I think we did a great job of keeping things conversational and open on the tour with Rick Walker last year, but part of the creative buzz for me was the increased tension of three people all exerting an influence – it became more of a ‘debate’ than a conversation, and that threw out some fascinating music.

It’s a shame that there’s so little conceptualizing that goes on in music – I certainly wouldn’t be playing what I play if my ‘game plan’ were different. So many people just jump in and play without ever thinking why… I can feel this heading towards a question or two about music education, but maybe we’ll leave that for a future issue!”

Tags:

Review – Solo Bass Looping Festival, Santa Cruz (Good Times)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“As a rainstorm raged outside the beautiful Art Deco walls of the old Rio Theatre there was quite a storm of another kind brewing on this venue’s new stage. Tuesday night’s world premiere ‘Bass Looping Festival’ was a great success story for hosts Rick Walker and Laurence Bedford. The avante garde event journeyed into the untapped areas that electronic musica can truly offer an audience. The concept of a ‘looping festival’ held the promise of musical expansion and also some risk into the unknown creating an exponentially, mind-expanding musical terrain.

Rick Walker was the couturier of the evening and shall remain so as the musical director of this new ongoing series, which will explore the underworlds of electronic music. Walker’s history and leadership of the seminal New Wave group Tao Chemical, Tao Rhythmical and the innovative World Fusion ensemble, Worlds Collide, proves he has always managed to be at the razor’s edge of inspiration and innovation.

Trey Donovan took the stage barefoot and gave a stellar performance on his Chapman Stick, often switching mid-song to add notes from his electric bass. The interface of the two sounds was rich and gratifying. Max Valentino came up next and played an extra large acoustic bass that looked like a large guitar rather than an upright bass. The sounds had a crisp resonance unlike the bassy bottom end sounds that emanate from a traditional bass. His third tune of the evening was “Sticks and Tones” (I love the title) which proved his refined ability to be a solo bassist. “Time is Rubber” had unflinching integrity and filled the hall with a stir of emotion.

A bassist who displayed a Buddhist approach to playing was Scott Kungha Drengsen. He played meditative drones with chordial cathedral-like melody lines. His usage of a foot-operated sequencer, coupled with his own version of special effects, created an ‘otherworldy collage’ with accents similar to Scott Lafaro’s slapping techniques. Drengsen is proficient on six-string fretless, five- and eight-stringed basses and six-string electric doublebass. He chose to incorporate multiple bass in his movie soundtrack-like performance.

Englishman Steve Lawson at last took center stage with the spirit of Jaco Pastrious woven into the tapestry of his technique and his grasp on the language of bass artistry. He brought forth the textures of a fuzzed-out Jimi Hendrix riff or seduced you down a jazzy cobblestone road in New Orleans with “Blue Moon.” His hypnotic trance jazz/blues crossover piece “Blue Sticks,” had a Zen-like quality to its melody lines. Next you found yourself “Drifting” to distant lands and uncharted looping terrains with this fine composition of experimental artistry. Lawson conjured a sense of time traveling, as he placed the e-bows on the lower strings, resulting in continual watery feedback loops of sound that evoked images of an aquatic world. Lawson’s candor in between songs were tongue-in-cheek, with its brilliantly dry delivery, in his lovely English accent.

The showstopper was a duet with Rick Walker playing his drum mallets upon the strings of Lawson’s bass, as Lawson played the upper strings on the bass’s fretboard. I wished that I had a recording of this moment.”

– Michele Benson

Tags:

The Musical Mechanics of 'Feeling': Wordless Story Telling

April 5th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Right, here’s a blog post I promised on Twitter at the beginning of the week, but have only just got round to writing. Here were my original ‘tweets’ –

solobasssteve “Blog post idea – the musical mechanics of ‘feeling’: ambiguity, journey, wordless story-telling and narrative/soundtrack quality…”
solobasssteve “Gifted singers routinely sing like they’re still discovering the unfolding tale of the song. Instrumentalists rarely play like that…”

One of the things I work most hard on in my music is developing the relationship between phrasing and feeling. Learning how to play a tune as though it has words and is telling a story. For that reason, most of my biggest influences are singers; the musicians I try and emulate are those whose music strikes me on an emotional, feeling level rather than a technical, heady one.

I often find myself left cold by instrumental music that on the surface I’m impressed by, but which doesn’t seem to soundtrack any part of my life, does reflect anything about the way I think or see the world. And I think I know why…

The big problem with most of what gets lumped together as ‘fusion’ or ‘electric jazz’ is that the way the music is played makes it sound like the artist has all the answers. Like there’s no search, no journey, just an arrival point. And that arrival point is one of dexterity and chops, with the compositions often stemming from a similar place. Or even with the compositions actually being pretty deep, but still being played from a position of having it all sown up before the tune starts.

Great singers never do that. They tell stories, the adopt characters, they emote according to the narrative. They often sing like they are discovering for the first time the unfolding tale of the song. It’s way more important to communicate than it is to show of their wikkid skillz. Having a big range in your voice is part of the singers emotional palette, and is rarely used for shredding (Maria/Celine etc. aside…)

So it’s no coincidence that my favourite instrumentalists also play like that. Bill Frisell is a fantastic case in point – a phenomenally gifted guitar player, who has leant his wide ranging guitar skills to a whole load of different projects, but who always digs deep emotionally. He plays guitar like a world-weary country singer, or a heart-broken torch singer. He does the full range of emotions, rather than sticking with the slightly smug, self-satisfied gymnastic displays of many instrumentalists.

Nels Cline is the same – he can be sad, angry, playful, child-like, inquisitive, tearful, tender… all in the same solo.

And of course there’s John Coltrane, the Godfather of story telling improvisors, unfolding the story of his spiritual quest on the stage each night via his sax. Phenomenal technical skill, completely at the service of the music, or the story, and always stretching, searching, telling stories as they occured to him, risking the blind allies, crying and screaming through his music when it was required.

Q – “So how do I as a bassist head in that direction? What are the mechanics of feeling? How do I move away from dextrous but lifeless technical cleverness and start telling stories?”

The start point is listening and a little analysis. Take a singer you love, a singer that moves you, a singer that connects – what are they ACTUALLY doing? What’s happening in terms of dynamics and phrasing? Where do the notes sit on the beat? Take 16 bars that you really like and learn them. Start by singing them, then play what you sing. Not just the notes, but the dynamics, phrasing, articulation. The whole works. As close as you can get. How far is that from how you usually play?

Here are a few musical elements that aid us in sounding a little more ambiguous, discursive, narrative:

  • stop playing everything on the beat: Bassists are the worst for this, but a lot of jazzers too – we end up drawing a metric grid in our minds and stick to it. Divide the bar into 8/16/32 and play those subdivisions. Go and have a listen to Joni Mitchell and tell me how often she’s on the beat. How often her phrasing is metric. Pretty much never.
  • Start using dynamics: I’m amazed at how few melody players in jazz – particularly guitarists and bassists – rarely vary the dynamics of what they do.Have a listen to this Bartok solo sonata for violin – hear what’s being done with the phrasing and dynamics? It’s incredible.

    Alternatively, have a listen to Sinatra, to the way he pulled the melodies around, and used his amazing control of dynamics. Remarkable stuff. In the rock world, check out Doug Pinnick’s vocals with King’s X. He’s closer to singing in time, but exploits the variation in being ahead of or behind the beat beautifully to spell out the emotion of a song.

  • Vary your technique – again, very few singers sing in one ‘tone’ through everything. Those that do usually get tiresome pretty quick. Most of them use tonal variety the way we do when we talk. Getting louder will vary the tone automatically. Same with your instrument. The number of bassists who play with their thumb planted on top of the pickup, using their first two fingers in strict alternation even for playing tunes is bizarre. Bassmonkeys, Your right hand is your primary tone control – forget EQing, and work with the source, where the subtle variations are from note to note. moment to moment, phrase to phrase. Experiment, keeping in mind what you’re trying to do – tell a story!
  • Play less notes – At NAMM every year, I get other bassists – often pretty famous ones – coming up and asking me how I play so ‘soulfully’, or so ‘deeply’ or whatever. Admittedly, their reaction to what I do is going to be exaggerated by the lunacy of all the shredding going on, but the simplest answer is often that I play less notes than most of what they are used to listenin to. Again, it’s a singer-thing. Very few of my favourite vocal melodies are technically hard to play. Some have some pretty big intervals in them (Jonatha Brooke, one of my favourite singer/songwriters on the planet, writes some of the most amazing melodies, and has an incredible way of delivering them. She uses really unusual intervals but never sounds like the cleverness of the tune is getting in the way of what’s being said…) So just learn some vocal tunes. Actually, not just ‘some’, learn loads! Get deep into what singers do. Take songs and listen closely to how the tune develops from one verse to the next. Again, great story tellers adapt the phrasing to the emotion of the story, they don’t feel the need to add more and more notes as it goes on…
  • Play simply… even the super fast stuff! – the genius of Coltrane was that he very rarely sounded like he was struggling with his sax. He was wrestling with music, and emotion through his sax, he was digging deep to find the soundtrack to his inner journey, but his horn was at the service of that journey, not directing it in a ‘check out this clever shit’ way. Dexterity is a wonderful thing. There’s nothing at all wrong with being able to sing or play really fast. It’s just that it’s not an end in and of itself. Some things sound fantastic when you play them really fast. There are tracks by Michael Manring and Matthew Garrison that have an incredible energy rush to them because of the pace. They wouldn’t have that if they were slower. But neither player sounds like the tunes are a vehicle for a load of mindless shredding. Im always looking to improve my technique by deepening it. Speed is definitely part of that. But it’s just one aspect of control. And control is the key.

I find it really odd when I hear musicians that site Miles Davis as a big influence and then proceed to play like the entire story of the tune was set in stone years ago. Like there’s nothing to add, nowhere new to go, no need to dig deep. Miles is the Yin to Coltrane’s Yang. Miles was a pretty good be-bop trumpeter in the late 40s/early 50s, but he didn’t really have the chops of Dizzie or Chet Baker. And yet he had a quality to his playing, even on crazy-fast bebop stuff, that drew you in, that took you with him… That got deeper and deeper as his life went on. With a cracked and broken sound, he told stories, and wrung out old melodies to find new tales. He also never went backwards, constantly searching for new things in music. The narrative of each solo was reflected in the meta-narrative of the arc of his career. No resting on laurels, lots of progressive work, and not a few false starts along the way. But he was integral to just about every new thing that happened in jazz from the early 50s onwards.

We need to dig deep to find this stuff. It’s not something you just do. Its not something easy, it’s not a lick you can learn and regurgitate, or a solo by such and such a player that you can transcribe. It’s a desire and a search and a longing to tell stories that comes out in our playing, that shapes the way we practice, the kind of musicians we choose to work with, and the risks we take. If you want some inspiration, try looking up some of the following on last.fm:

Guitarists: Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, David Torn, Mark Ribot
Bassists: Michael Manring, Matthew Garrison, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden
Pianists: Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Jez Carr, Alan Pasqua
Singer/songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Gillian Welch, Jonatha Brooke, Lobelia, David Sylvian, Kelly Joe Phelps, Robert Smith (The Cure), Frank Black (The Pixies)

Music is about way more than impressing other musicians. There’s nothing wrong with musicians being impressed by what you do, any more than there’s anything wrong with people thinking you’ve got a cute accent when you talk… but what you say is what will sustain the value in the long run… Dig deep.

Tags: bass ideas · cool links · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Lee Sklar interview from Bassist Mag, Oct 99

February 3rd, 2008 · 2 Comments

One of my favourite things about going out to NAMM each January is getting to see Lee Sklar – if you’re a bass player you obviously already know who he is. If you’re not a bassist, you might recognise Lee as the guy that played bass with James Taylor and Phil Collins who looks like the Farside version of God.

He’s a bona fide bass legend, has defined how the rest of us approach playing with singer/songwriters, but has covered so many other styles, including playing on Billy Cobham’s classic fusion record, Spectrum.

Interviewing Lee back in 99 was a real pleasure, and an honour, and since then we’ve become friends, and always catch up for a chat a NAMM. He’s on tour with Toto at the moment – if you go and see them play and get to say hi after the show, please pass on my best!

here’s the interview – enjoy!

—o0o—

Lee Sklar Interview

(Reproduced from the October 1999 issue of Bassist Magazine)

Few faces are as instantly recognisable within the bass world as Lee Sklar. The same is definitely true of his playing. With more than 30 years and 2000 albums behind him, Lee’s sound has graced more hit records than almost anyone.

Aside from being a hired gun, Lee is best known for his long standing musical relationships with Phil Collins and James Taylor. Indeed, it was the gig with James that proved to be Lee’s ticket into music full time back in the late 60s.

“I was in a lot of local bands in LA, including a band called Wulfgang,” recalls Lee. “James auditioned as the singer but wasn’t what we were looking for – we needed someone somewhere between Sam ‘n’ Dave and Robert Plant! James blew me away but just wasn’t right.

“About a year later, James asked me to do a gig, which I immediately agreed to. We did two gigs at one venue – the first was before ‘Fire and Rain’ and the place was so empty you could drive a truck through it. At the second show, the place was packed, and we knew we were onto something! So a gig which initially looked like being one or two shows ended up being 20 years.”

So was it working with James that opened the door to session work?

“Yeah. It’s funny, I’ve always considered myself a band guy. I was an art student in college and I still think I’m a better sculpture than musician. Music was just a weekend hobby – I had no intention of becoming a studio musician. I was really shocked when I started getting calls to play on people’s records.”

Unlike many bassists, it’s impossible to label the one kind of music that you get called for – your CV is so diverse. How did that come about?

“I don’t really know – I feel really fortunate to have just got the calls! I guess that once I came to the realisation that I was a studio musician, I discovered that the most essential aspect is having really wide ears, embracing all styles.”

Has that always been your approach?

“Not at all! I started playing classical piano at four years old and was still a complete classical music snob when I started studying upright bass – all orchestral stuff. I wasn’t into Elvis or the Beach Boys – I was into Gershwin and Copeland. It was a different world. Then the first time I heard the Beatles’I was an usher at the Hollywood Bowl the first time they played there – Paul changed my life! (laughs)

“When I got into the studio scene, I found myself getting all kinds of calls. One minute I’m doing Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’, and the next thing I know I’m doing ‘Spectrum’ with Billy Cobham. The calls would come in and I’d just look at everything as a challenge.

Have you ever turned down a session?

“Occasionally – I’ve had a huge amount of wrist injuries, so I can’t play thumb-popping (slap) style – I don’t have the dexterity to deal with it. So when people call me to do that, I put them in touch with friends I have – I’d rather see other guys working, and I’ll just come hang out.

“I also don’t play upright anymore. I was doing a project where I was using a Washburn 5 string fretless to get an upright sound, but they had a couple of songs where they wanted real upright and I said ‘call Patitucci’ – it was when he was still living in LA – and I went down and hung out at the sessions with John.

“I’ve always tried to understand my limitations so I try to find out ahead of time what they want on the session. The one main thing I’ve cultivated is a real sensitivity to singer/songwriters. I know how to accompany, and how to listen to a person breathe to hear where the down beat is – to never try to lead them. I’m really comfortable on that seat – I’ve never considered myself a virtuoso. It’s like going to the NAMM show and listening to all the guys with the monstrous chops – I’ve never considered myself that. I’m happy when people say I’m ‘king of the whole note’ – I really value that position as a bass player. I’ve done fusion, but I like being an accompanist.”

From a listener’s point of view, it sounds like you spot the holes, and never play across the vocal?

“I think it just requires listening and one of the problems that a lot of players have is that they don’t listen. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the tenacity that it takes to develop NAMM show chops – you see all these guys that have these different gifts and it’s fantastic. But I’m just one of these people that if I’m doing a recording and they ask for a bass solo I say I’d rather hear another song in that space, and I’ve heard some of the greatest soloists in the world play. I can enjoy it for a bit but I’m really a song person – maybe an element of it is laziness on my part. I grew up in an era where you were hired as an accompanist, even if you were doing a metal project. I really believe in the song.”

I assume that that sets producers at ease?

“Not only the producer, but I often get hired because the artist feels like they’re going to be comfortable with the extra room to breath. Guys get so used to ‘time’ that they don’t really understand that you can have a beautiful pause before a verse, because you’re human! Don’t do all your training with a metronome, try to understand what it is to really feel a song. Don’t be afraid to leave that kind of space. That’s what I’ve always liked about Asian thinking, the importance of space, allowing things not to be there.

“I did a clinic at the Bass Centre in LA a few years ago, and it scared the crap out of me. I only agreed to it as a non-playing clinic – most of the guys there were sleeping with their basses and waking up and playing them – that’s what I was like at that age, too. Anyway, they got to talking about how boring it must be to play country cos there’s not much going on. And I said a whole note is much more difficult to do than 32nd notes, which only demands proficiency. If someone gives you one note to do in a bar, there’s a whole lot more responsibility – where do you drop that note? Do you put a little vibrato on it? Which string do you play it on for tonal quality? When do you lift off? Do you mute it with your hand? They were all looking at me saying ‘geez we just thought it was boring!’

After so many tours and albums, do you still have any unfulfilled ambitions?

“I would like to get back and start sculpting again. I haven’t done it for a long time now, just because the music has occupied such a large part of my life. I’m going to be 52 years old this year, and you’d think at this point in my life that maybe things will start to slow down but I’m still as busy as ever! I’ve been working with artists from Mexico, Japan, Thailand and France; I’m musical director on a TV show, I’ve got sessions coming up with Barbra Streisand. It’s amazing to me that I’m still getting all these calls. My ambition is just to keep doing what I do. I just really enjoy getting up and going to work and playing with guys that I like playing with. That and enjoying my home life – my family, my pets, my garden, building cars. I feel like a big pie, and music is a slice of the pie but not the whole pie. It impacts everything else I do, but I don’t have to be playing every day to feel I’m a valuable person.”

In Defense Of REAL Musicians!

After 30 years in the industry, having seen recording technology blossom from the days when a four track was state of the art to what we have now – how has that changed it for players like yourself?

“Firstly, I’m all in favour of technology – I don’t want to be living in the stone age – but one of the biggest problems with technology is that it’s become so good that it’s allowed people into this business that should never have been in it. With Pro-Tools and such like, you’ve got singers that can’t sing to save their lives and engineers whose whole careers are spent tuning bad singers. You’ve got a drummer with no time, so you move the beat. As far as I’m concerned if the guy doesn’t swing, fire him – let him serve french fries in McDonald’s, but don’t let him get in a studio, because there are too many great players trying to get into that seat. That aspect of technology I find really disconcerting.

“Every once in a while I work on things and I feel like I’m in the old days. We got so used to that – going into sessions with Jim Gordon, or Jim Keltner and the pocket was so strong! Everything was based on ensemble playing, whereas nowadays, at least half the work I do, I’m just overdubbing to sequenced bass and they want it to feel natural, but you’re already handcuffed by the fact that this was done to a sequencer and they want you to make it breath a little bit and I think: why don’t they just put a rhythm section together and do this???? People are afraid – they want to keep as much control and money as they can, and are afraid to let a bunch of guys come in and actually play something. I’ve worked with people and we’ve had to make their records that way and suddenly we’ll do a gig and the first time the band plays the song it’s a hundred times better than the record and they’re wondering why! It’s because we’re all putting personality into the tunes.”

Lee’s gear

Working in such diverse situations requires quite a few different tools – here’s a list of the current Sklar arsenal [current as of Oct 99!] –

1. A Fender(ish) 4 string bass – “It has Charvel alder body, two EMG P-Bass pickups in Jazz position, but reversed, a Badass Bridge, a Hipshot D-Tuner, and mandolin fretwork.”
2 Dingwall 5-string “bitchin’!”
3 Yamaha TRB5 fretless
4 Washburn AB45(s?) acoustic fretless
5 Tubeworks DI
6 Euphonic Audio 2×8″ and 2×10″ speaker cabs.
7 Walter Woods amp
8 GK 1200 combo amp
9 Boss Octave pedal (‘my rack consists of this one pedal!’)
10 GHS Super Steel Strings 40-102.

That’s a fair amount of gear, but as the man says – “It’s still the same old me at the helm so what the hell!?”

Tags: journalism

London Jazz Festival fun

November 25th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Yesterday’s gig at the Barbican with Corey Mwamba was all kinds of fun. As I’ve mentioned before, this was definitely the most difficult music I’ve ever had to play, and I was still a little under-prepared given that we’d had only two rehearsals as a band – there were a couple of the lines that I could play fine on my own, without the distractions of other musicians, but in the context of the gorgeous improv soup going on around me, I got a little lost. However, one of the very useful skills I’ve picked up from all the improvised music settings that I’ve played in is how to get lost in interesting ways. Learning what to do in a situation like that is your most important tool when it comes to winging it. If you’re underprepared, you’re very likely to screw up, and no amount of bravado or talking yourself up is going to make your playing any better. So instead, you try and give yourself markers through the tune to find your way again when you’ve lost it, and in between playing things that sound GOOD even if they aren’t RIGHT – after all, the audience don’t know the music. There were VERY few of the mistakes I made in the gig that anyone who was intimately acquainted with the music would have been able to spot at all…

At one point in the title track of the set – Argentum – the twinned power of Robert Mitchell on piano and Shaney Forbes on drums just blew over me like an unexpected storm. It was amazing, and beautiful, and a little scary, and I just tried to hang on to my bassline, listening for some clues in Shaney’s drumming for where the hell I was meant to be, but really just enjoying the ride. It’s a healthy feeling to be out of one’s depth with musicians who do their thing with a lot more confidence than you do their thing… I was off of home territory, but as a result was able to take something different to the gig… I don’t carry any of the machismo so often attached to anything possibly describable as ‘fusion’, and I think Corey was drawn to that – both in terms of my ‘sound’ and my approach to improvised stuff… I don’t/cant’ do twiddly clever solos over complex changes, so when I get in that situation, I tend to play atmospherically, shaping a sparse melody through the harmony, looking at it as a composition exercise – much the way I approach the Recycle Collective, just with a little more pre-ordained structure. And to my ears, it worked beautifully…

…there was a lovely moment at the end of the second last tune, where it had slimmed down to a drum solo, and we were all creeping back in to an improv section – I was using the ‘woodblock’ sound that I get by fretting the strings with my nails up near the bridge, and you could see the audience craning their necks to see where the additional percussion was coming from…. I like moments like that. :o)

It was a privilege to play with musicians that good – Corey, Robert, Shaney and Deborah are all incredible players, and delightful people, and I hope I get to play with all of them again v. soon!

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

Steve Rodby interview from Bassist Mag, Aug 1999

November 5th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Steve Rodby was, without a doubt, one of the nicest people I got to meet when writing for Bassist mag. Along with Michael Manring, Lee Sklar, Jimmy Haslip and a handful of others, he was one of the interviewees that inspired me as much by his personality, grace and enthusiasm as by his wise words and exceptional playing. His thoughts on soloing in this interview were particularly enlightening…

He’s also, bizarrely, one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. I’ve had the ‘who could replace Steve Rodby?’ conversations with loads of great bassists the world over, and no-one has yet suggested another player that does everything that Steve does as well as Steve does it in the Pat Metheny Group. His jazz upright playing is exemplary, his bowing beautiful, his rock and pop electric playing makes him sound like he’s spent the last 40 years studying nothing but great rock/pop bass playing. He’s a proper low-frequency master of all trades. So here’s the interview – again, frustratingly, it’s an edit of a very long and involved conversation that I wish I had transcribed… maybe I’ll have to start an ‘in conversation’ podcast – could be a fun project for NAMM… Anyway, have a read of this, then go and listen to any of the PMG albums that Steve plays on, and be amazed at what a great player he is. One thing to keep in mind is that when Richard Bona joined the PMG, he joined as a singer. That’s how good Steve is :o)


For 20 Years now The Pat Metheny Group has been one of the biggest selling acts on the contemporary jazz scene. It has consistently filled concert halls and arenas the world over, and produced a series of critically acclaimed albums that have touched on almost every imaginable area of contemporary music, from Latin to industrial, drum ‘n’ bass to avante garde and freeform improv.

Since 1982 Steve Rodby’s upright and electric bass grooves have driven the band’s sound, helping to define the style that is now instantly recognisable as the PMG.

Bassist collared Steve for the low down on all things Metheny-esque while they were in London earlier this year for three nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

SL – You started out as a Classical bassist, but made the switch to Jazz fairly early on. How did that come about?

‘I always thought I’d be a classical bassist. My father is a classical musician, so that seemed the obvious direction. I went to college to study, but I don’t think I was ever quite at the level where I would have landed a really good orchestral post.

‘Very early on I started playing pop. When I was in college I got a couple of calls for studio work and I took to those sessions extremely well. Because orchestra playing was kinda boring, I played this game with my self when I was a kid where I would imagine that there was a mic in front of my bass recording every note that I played and that someone was going to say “Rodby, come in here!” and then play the tape back and say “What were you doing there”'”

‘So when I finally got in the studio, it was a fairly stress free process as I’d been playing for imaginary tape recorders for years!!

‘I also started to play electric bass, and made the switch to playing pop easily as that’s the music I was listening to all the time.

‘I finished college got my degree in classical bass, but by half way through college I was playing fairly regularly on the Chicago jazz scene.

‘My big break came when the great bass player Rufus Reid, who played in the house band at the Jazz Showcase (prestigious Chicago jazz venue), moved to New York, so the gig was up for grabs. The owner of the club seemed to like the way I played, and I ended up playing five nights, three sets a night with all these amazing visiting musicians like Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Joe Henderson. The drummer in the house band had played with Charlie Parker and the pianists were all 30 years older than me and knew so much about music. And here I was this nerdy college kid with a classical background and all I had going for me was my ear and a feel!’

How did you learn all the tunes?

‘When I first started playing bass, my dad bought would play guitar and we would play duets. To teach me a song, he would write the roots notes and bar lines down, with no information about what else to play, so I had to improvise from the very beginning.

‘On the gigs, I was doing the same thing – following roots and knowing instinctively what the rest of the notes were. The piano players would play the first few choruses very clearly until I had it. I learned on the bandstand rather than in the practice room or out of books. I never really studied as much as I wish that I had.’

How did you first hook up with Pat?

‘I’d met Pat at various jazz camps when we were younger, and had stayed in touch. He was looking to add acoustic bass to his band and was auditioning players. My name came up so he called me and I went to NY and auditioned. Shortly after that he offered me the job.

‘When I met Pat I was an unformed nobody from small town Illinois, who didn’t even know what chords were, and he was already the future of music – he was 18 and had it all figured out. He was so far ahead of the game it was unbelievable. But when we played there was something about the style of the music that I felt that I could understand that I couldn’t account for – It may have been similar backgrounds and a shared love of pop music, the Beatles. It just made sense. I used to listen to the first couple of PMG albums and say to myself – ‘that’s my music’. It really was my dream group.’

Was it intimidating to work with Pat after the succession of great bassists that he’d already worked with?

‘Mmm, not really. The only thing that could have freaked me was Pat’s relationship with Jaco. Not only because he played with Jaco, but he REALLY played with Jaco. Bright Sized Life was one of the best records ever made. The next time I saw Pat after he met Jaco he said, “Oh man, I just heard a bass player that is going to change music. He sounds like John McLaughlin and John Coltrane only better – and on bass!!” – Pat doesn’t say stuff like that lightly!

‘Once I heard Jaco I just said “forget it, I’m not even going to try!” I was one of the few bassists on the planet who loved Pat and Weather Report but didn’t get a fretless and transcribe Jaco’s licks. I’ve never transcribed a bass solo in my life! Hearing Jaco also kept me away from playing fretless. So I thought if I’m going to do anything, I’ll play acoustic bass and I’ll play fretted pop style bass. Playing acoustic bass with Pat gave me a lot of freedom because what I was doing was different to what Mark Egan, Jaco or Charlie Haden had done. That’s my way of being able to sleep at night, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!!’

How did the group develop such a distinctive sound?

‘In the early days of the band, I think we had a feeling that we had to do something different from other bands, so we had a load of do’s and don’ts – don’t do fusion, don’t have a back beat. And then we spent a lot of time avoiding music that may have sounded borrowed. But now we’ve finally got to the place were we can play Happy Birthday and it’ll sound like us. So we can now do a tune like the opening track on Imaginary Day that sounds sorta Chinese, maybe a bit like Gamalan Indonesian music, but it still sounds like us.’

Live, on the standard, ‘How Insensitive’, you take the first solo that I’ve heard you play. Is this a new area for you?

‘For years I took some really bad solos, and then we started doing this tune and I began applying myself to soloing again. That’s the next thing to think about. Not just soloing, but maybe making a solo record. I’ve spent so many years not paying any attention to it, but now that I’ve finally started to do my homework, I’ve found a real satisfaction. I’ve managed to get beyond the plateau that I was on. I’m moving forward as a soloist, so maybe now’s the time to do my own record.’

What have you been studying?

‘Well, I’ve finally begun to realise that at the technical level – playing melodies and chord scales, playing faster, higher – that you need to be able to do it 20 times faster than you’ll ever need to in a song! My problem was that the fastest the highest the hardest that I ever played was in this little solo during the gig. I was always trying to reach so far over my head and it didn’t really work.

‘So I realised that I had to put in the time, getting my technique up to speed. Same with the chord scales – there is a set of musical materials that you need to know – with this chord, this set of notes are your primary musical material – you can do other things, but you need that reference point.

‘These are the things that beginning sax or piano players learn very easily, but bass players don’t seem to take to so well. Fancy bass soloists tend to learn a bunch of hot licks but often don’t learn the fundamentals of music. So I’m finally taking the time to learn what the chords are and be able to play them at soloing speed!

‘A great bass solo has to be a high quality melody that would sound like a high quality melody if it was played on another instrument. You’d go, “well, it’s down kinda low on the piano, and he’s playing a little slow, but that’s a great melody!” Most bass solos on any other instrument would sound kinda weak.

‘I have a million miles to go, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s what I’m going to work on for the next 20 years. I’m sat up there playing for myself and for the audience but I’ve also got Pat and Lyle, two of the finest melodic improvisers around, sat right behind me! I’m not going to get a smile out of them by playing fast, but my playing good strong melodies.”

Pat Metheny on Steve Rodby:

When you’ve played with the most highly respected bassists on the planet, the must be something pretty special about the guys that you keep in your band for 15 years. Here’s what Pat has to say about Steve –

‘The kinds of things I need in any musician who is going to be in the group, regardless of their role in the band, is a certain musical insight that includes, but hopefully transcends, a deep sense of what has happened on their respective instrument, particularly over the past 60 or 70 years of popular and improvised music, combined with the musical skill and vocabulary to sonically render their conception of what just what that history implies into a personal sound. Steve Rodby has the ability to do just that and so much more, and that is what makes him the perfect bass player for this band. His background in classical music combined with his extensive jazz playing and studio work has made him an exceptionally well rounded player with a genuine musical curiosity that transcends style. His relentless pursuit of just the right part, played with just the right intonation and sound are well suited for the basic musical aesthetic that our band aspires toward.’

Tags: bass ideas · journalism · tips for musicians

more on filtering out 'junk-music' in a digital age…

October 9th, 2007 · 1 Comment

In this post from a couple of days ago, commenting on the need to find ways to filter for quality at a time when it seems financial constraints may end up providing less of an incentive to seek out great music to buy, I finished by saying,

“Which only goes to say that we need filters. It doesn’t prove the monetary filters are the only ones, or even the best ones, but it does suggest that we need a way of making sure we doing overdose on junk-music.

And of course, those filters are already there, and I use them. The two i use are Last.Fm and Emusic. Last.fm offers a few different services that can help you discover new music, as well as the option to listen before spending money… firstly, there’s the radio stations, stations that are digitally programmed according to your taste, the tastes of people who like similar things to you, or by the taste of people who happen to also be fans of a particular band, or use a particular tag, so the level of randomness in relation to your own recorded playlists is affected by which of those radio options you choose, and how much listening time you’ve logged. Still, it’s an amazing site, which provides purchasing links with all the artists, data for tracking live music details, tools for blogging about music, forums for connecting with music fans connected by musical or extra-musical interests and a host of other things to make researching music fun.

Emusic is a very different formula, in that it is primarily a shop. The difference being that you ‘subscribe’ for a certain amount per month, and get a certain number of fairly high quality DRM free downloads for your fee. In my case, I get 50 tracks a month for £11.99 – which is about the standard price of a single CD in a specialist music shop. If you happen to like styles of music where the artists record long songs, you can get a heck of a lot of mileage for your money (for example, you could get almost all of the Jonas Hellborg back catalogue with 50 downloads, as few of his albums feature more than 5 or 6 tracks).

This month, I’ve just downloaded John Patitucci’s latest album, ‘Line By Line‘ (which is playing as I write, and is excellent), Gary Willis’ newest project, ‘Slaughterhouse 3‘ (marvellous heavy avant-fusion), and a glorious Kenny Wheeler record called ‘It Takes Two!‘, which I can already tell is going to be become a huge favourite. 3 amazing albums I would have been unlikely to buy on CD, but which I found on emusic via review and recommendation. You see, every artist and album has links next to it to things listened to by people who like that. You also get recommendations via friends and again via digitally compiled lists of users with similar data to your own. The option is there to listen (though the M3U playlist system used to preview music is clumsy and a pain in the arse), or you can just download a couple of tracks and see how you get on.

Both great filters, highly recommended. if you want to find me on either of them, at last.fm my listener page is here and my artist page is here. For emusic, my listener page is here and the place for downloading my music is here.

I really like the emusic model for downloading and paying for music – you’re paying a fraction of the cost of what you would for a CD, but you’re also committing to a certain level of investment each month in the ongoing success of recorded music. Everybody Wins!

Tags: cool links · Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

John Patitucci interview from Jan. '99

October 6th, 2007 · Comments Off on John Patitucci interview from Jan. '99

In my time at Bassist, I interviewed John Patitucci twice – once was the one below, backstage at the Barbican, and once was for a jazz tutorial piece, downstairs at Pizza Express on Dean Street. He was a player that was talked of in such revered tones when I was at college – the pinnacle of wikkid bass skillz, and, I think, the first person I ever noticed playing a 6 string bass (when he was interviewed in Guitarist mag in the late 80s) – The bass line and solo on ‘Got A Match?’ from the first Electrik Band album was pretty much the gold standard. He was a nice guy to interview, friendly and full of great answers, and clearly someone who thinks in a very deep way about his playing. This interview followed his second really great record – ‘Now’. The first, ‘One More Angel’ is one of the finest acoustic jazz records of the last 35 years, IMHO, and came after years of impressive but relatively hollow electric fusion records.


var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-2641226-2']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js'; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();