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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



5 Inspirational Bass Recordings with No Drums

January 6th, 2015 · Comments Off on 5 Inspirational Bass Recordings with No Drums

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.

 

Over to you – what are your favourites?

Tags: bass ideas · music reviews

5 Solo Bassists Who Shaped My Musical World

January 3rd, 2015 · 6 Comments

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 →]

Tags: bass ideas · cool links

Musicians Who Use Looping: A Beginner’s Guide.

October 31st, 2010 · 4 Comments

As you’re no doubt more than well aware, the whole process of real time looping is essential to the way I make music, whether it be live or in the studio, solo or collaborating – it’s a very long time since I last did a gig that didn’t have some element of looping in it. Certainly, one listen to my latest solo live album shows that – this is entirely live, there’s nothing added here, just the gig… (click the ‘buy’ button below to download the album and pay whatever you think it’s worth for it)

[Jan 2014 edit] And my latest project, FingerPainting is a duo (and sometimes a trio) that relies on multiple musicians looping at once and sometimes looping each other! Every note that Daniel Berkman and I have ever played together has been released – check it out in the sidebar there, or get all 10 shows for just £10 here.

The basic idea is this – a looper is an effect that allows the musician to record what they are playing and then loop it while they play over the top. Almost all looping devices allow you to do multiple layers on that loop, and some of them allow you to do fun things to the loop once it’s recorded – reverse it, slow it down, speed it up, stop it, restart it, remove some or all of the layers… [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music

Ten Years On: Live In London – Brand New Live Recording!

October 29th, 2010 · Comments Off on Ten Years On: Live In London – Brand New Live Recording!

It’s out! I’ve been talking for the last week on Twitter and Facebook about mixing the recording of my solo set from last week’s London gig with Michael Manring, at Round Midnight, and here it is:

In addition to the tracks listed in the player, there’s one ‘hidden’ track that you only get with the full album download. And as always, you’re welcome to pay whatever you think it’s worth for the download. Have a listen, see what you think. [Read more →]

Tags: Music News

London Gig With Michael Manring – October 20th!

September 17th, 2010 · Comments Off on London Gig With Michael Manring – October 20th!

Yup, Michael and I are back at Round Midnight! Last time we played there we sold it out, people were queued up outside trying to get in, so I heartily suggest that you call and book in advance.

Click here for booking/ticket info.

Playing with Michael is one of my very favouritest things to do as a musician, and listening to him play is one of my favouritest things to do as music fan. So I’m happy as Larry. (Not sure who Larry is, but he must be over the moon right now.)

Here’s a lovely lil’ video from last time we played there:

And here’s our free-to-download live EP, recorded in California a few years back:

Steve Lawson and Michael Manring live at Don Quixotes by solobasssteve

Hope to see you there – PLEASE share this link around, invite friends, and c’mon down. It’s going to be a GREAT show, and probably my last ‘public’ show in London before the end of the year… and I think Alex Bershadsky is joining us, which will be cool.

Tags: gig dates · Music News

A Decade In Music – The Solo Bass Years.

December 22nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

First Ever Solo Gig, London, December 1999

My first ever solo gig was at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, on Dec 15th, 1999 – 10 years ago last week.

The eve of the new millennium, and a gig that started with a lie (the lovely chap who booked the gig asked me if I had a whole set of material after seeing me do one solo tune in a band-gig. I lied and said ‘yes’ :) ). It wasn’t the first time I’d played solo bass in public – that was a product demo at the National Music Show for Bassist Magazine in Nov 97. I also played weird improv noise stuff for a contemporary dance company in Nov 98.
[Read more →]

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · Musing on Music

A Decade In Music

December 7th, 2009 · 19 Comments

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the decade.

A decade that began just a couple of weeks after my first ever solo gig.

That gig, unknown to me at the time, marked a pretty huge turning point in my music career.

The ‘session’ work I’d be pursuing and doing up til that point was to dry up pretty damn quick when word got out that I was doing gigs on my own, but equally fast, word spread about what I was up to to the people who might like to listen to it, and I started to play more and more shows, and in August 2000 put out my first solo album. A decade later, and here we are… Where? I’m not sure. [Read more →]

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

SoundCloud – Audio Online, Your Way.

October 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments

So, Part II is about Soundcloud:

Soundcloud is SUCH a great compliment to BandCamp. While BandCamp is all about the curated artifact of music, Soundcloud is all about malleable audio – there’s no restriction on file-size, or resolution, so you can put MP3s up, podcasts, entire gigs as a single embeddable file…

It works great as a sketchbook, and again, you can control whether the stuff is streamable, downloadable or whatever else… There’s also a nice social side to SoundCloud, with the usual 2.0 follower/followee relationship, as well as the option to have ‘private’ files, for sharing music amongst collaborators before making it public. Very useful. It’s got a host of other fantastic features, which you can check out here, and to see it in action, here’s the EP that Michael Manring and I made available a few weeks ago, exclusively via SoundCloud:

Steve Lawson and Michael Manring live at Don Quixotes by solobasssteve

The pairing of Bandcamp and Soundcloud is a pretty much unbeatable combo for distributing audio files online. And Bandcamp gives you to option to charge for them as well.

What is as yet un-mapped is the actual relationship between how we value music, and how artists can price their work relating to that value. Donations, like the pay what you want option in Bandcamp, work really well – we the audience get the chance to be generous if we want, and people with no money can still get the music (and if they want to ‘pay’ something, can just share it around – after all, that’s ultimately what it’s all about!) but it still the case that you either pay before you listen (in which case the donation is a guess) OR the listener has to come back and make a donation after (which requires a level of commitment to the ideal that few of us are capable of…)

One of the projects I’m working on is a platform that seeks to work out that value and allow listeners to pay based on it, and I’ll write more about that very soon…

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Bandcamp, Soundcloud And The Portability Of Music

October 12th, 2009 · 17 Comments

For many years,  musicians have been looking for decent ways of hosting, embedding, distributing and selling music online. The shops that sell MP3s, on the back of iTunes success, are myriad. As are the sites that let you upload a few tunes and put them on your profile, ala Myspace, Reverbnation etc.

But two services are now becoming essential in the web-savvy musicians tool-kit – BandCamp and Soundcloud.

I’ll blog about Soundcloud tomorrow, but let’s start withBandCamp: [Read more →]

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Second Lot Of Video – Solo and Duo – From the Gig with Michael Manring

October 10th, 2009 · Comments Off on Second Lot Of Video – Solo and Duo – From the Gig with Michael Manring

I’m processing the video I’ve got from the gig as fast as I can – two more are now up for your delectation and delight. Firstly, the second of the duet improvisations: [Read more →]

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News