stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



destroying all musical boundaries

November 9th, 2005 · 1 Comment

A student turned up yesterday morning having been working on Jaco‘s arrangement of ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles. He was making rather a nice job of it, but one of the things I often witter on about in lessons is the notion of active and passive learning – passive learning being just the copying by rote of a particular piece of music (or scale or interval study, or whatever) without taking it any further. Active learning would pull it apart into its various musical components, why does it work, what are the chords, how can I take that style of arrangement and apply it to other tunes, are there any new techniques that come up in this piece that I can absorb into my playing, and how else can I play this same tune?

In answering this last question, whenever anyone is doing this tune (it’s a standard for bassists to have a go at), I play them Bobby McFerrin‘s solo voice arrangement of the same tune, from his album ‘The Voice’. Which happens to be one of the greatest solo performer recordings of all time. The lovely thing about it is that conceptually it rips the roof off of what’s possible on any instrument – if one man can do all that with one unprocessed voice, how much more can I do with my bass than I am currently doing? What kind of leaps of logic, what kind of seemingly insane musical experiments have lead to Bobby being able to perform like that? It’s clearly not a style that one stumbles into, and I’ve no doubt that his arrangement of Blackbird took months and months to perfect, though he makes it sound so effortless on the CD.

If I were to draw up a list of most inspirational recordings for solo performers, this would be right up there at the top.

Oh go on then, here’s my top some, in no particular order –

Bobby McFerrin – The Voice
Don Ross – Passion Session
Michael Manring – Soliloquy
Kaki King – Legs To Makes Us Longer
Eric Roche – With These Hands
Pat Metheny – One Quiet Night
Keith Jarrett – Scala

a lot of these are solo acoustic guitar records, which I guess just reflects the fact that more people are experimenting with interesting music on solo guitar than on other instruments… or at least, I’ve been exposed to more solo guitar music than anything else…

Any others to add to the list? Stick ’em in the comments section at the bottom.

When I’m working towards a new album (as I am at the moment) I tend to ‘use’ music in a more knowing way than at any other time – I put things on to consciously take me out of my comfort zone, to re-orient my ears towards another space, to offer up possibilities for my own playing. I’m very much at the mercy of the things I listen to. in the last lot of recording I did, I recorded tracks that were heavily influenced by Morphine (the band, not the drug), M83 and Eric Roche. Bobby’s music takes me into another space altogether.

Soundtrack – Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

Tags: Uncategorized

So, I'm number one in the charts!

June 7th, 2005 · Comments Off on So, I'm number one in the charts!

Sadly not some kind of national sales chart, but an airplay chart for a show on WWSP in Steven’s Point, WI, hosted by BEAR – BEAR has been very supportive of my music for a long time, playing loads of it on his show over the years. Sadly you can’t stream it on line (at least, I’ve never found a stream), but it’s great to know he’s playing it!

Thanks, BEAR!

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny, ‘Bright Size Life’; Julie Lee, ‘Stillhouse Road’; Ethel, ‘Ethel’.

Tags: Uncategorized

Heatwave!!

March 17th, 2005 · Comments Off on Heatwave!!

Well, OK, not quite, but it is the first proper day of sun this year in London. It’s warm out! Like, proper spring weather. I actually went out into the garden, without having to empty the kitchen compost bin into the huge compost bin outside! Amazing.

Two other residents of this house are enjoying the sun – The Fairly Aged Felines have been allowed out into the garden for over a week now, ever since I expertly fitted a cat-flap to our back-door (well, OK, I fitted it, expertly or not.)

Much fun to be had exploring our garden, and the neighbouring gardens, to be sure!

Soundtrack – still Pat Metheny/Charlie Haden, ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’ – this is such an outstandingly gorgeous record, once it goes in the player it’s bound to be there for a day or so… I think I’m on my fifth or sixth listen in a row.

Tags: Uncategorized

the revelations from Iraq just keep on coming…

March 17th, 2005 · Comments Off on the revelations from Iraq just keep on coming…

So the death toll of Iraqis who’ve died in US custody in Iraq now stands at 108 according to this BBC report – 25% are being investigated as possible abuse cases.

Here’s the breakdown –

“The AP found that of the 108 deaths in US custody:

  • At least 26 have been investigated as criminal homicide involving the abuse of prisoners
  • At least 29 are attributed to suspected natural causes or accidents
  • Twenty-two are blamed on an insurgent mortar attack on Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004
  • At least 20 are attributed to “justifiable homicide”, where investigations found US troops used deadly force appropriately – primarily against rioting, escaping or threatening prisoners.

Those are pretty horrific statistics. 29/108 dying of ‘natural causes or accidents’ – what kind of set up are they running??? Accidents doing what? Natural causes? are they imprisoning sever asthmatics without access to medication? that’s a huge percentage to attribute to those two factors.

And the ‘justifiable homicide’ – justifiable in the way that the shooting of an Italian intellegence agent was ‘justifiable’??

It just goes on and on, the list of crimes being committed, the collapse of the rationale in the first place, the further information about the illegality of the British government’s case for war.

The biggest tragedy is that the next election won’t be a proper referendum on the war – Blair has taken us into this mess, but the alternative if we vote him out is so grim.

I just hope that between now and the election the Lib Dems come up with enough good stuff and media profile to dent both parties. They were the only ones that were anti-war all along, and do seem to have the most coherent policy set for this election. I just fear they don’t have the internal infrastructure for government.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny/Charlie Haden, ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’ (one of the most beautiful albums ever made); Alison Moyet, ‘Greatest Hits’.

Tags: Uncategorized

10 things UKIP don't want you to know

June 15th, 2004 · Comments Off on 10 things UKIP don't want you to know

I’m not usually in the habit of cross-posting from my own forum, but Cryptic posted a link to a fantastic article in the Independent about UKIP.

Most days there’s some choice morsel of info posted in the ‘Everything Else‘ forum by Mr Cryptic, and all are worth checking out. Feel free to comment on them too (or anything posted here – that’s the place to do it!)

Soundtrack – today I’m mixing tracks for the album, so lots more me, as well as reference material such as Pat Metheny/Charlie Haden, ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’; Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’; Bill Frisell, ‘Ghost Town’; Michael Manring; ‘Book Of Flame’; David Torn, ‘Tripping Over God’.

Tags: Uncategorized

A week at the old bailey…

May 29th, 2004 · Comments Off on A week at the old bailey…

This last week I was on Jury Service. By rights, I should still be on it, given that it’s meant to last for two weeks. If I was still on it, I wouldn’t be writing about it here. However, the criminals of London must’ve been on holiday of late as there just weren’t enough cases to keep all the jurors occupied. The one case I was offered was set to last for months, so I was excused, being self employed ‘n’ all.

Still, it was a fascinating, if fleeting, look at the mechanics of one small part of the english justice system, finding out how jurors are chosen, what the inside of the Old Bailey looks like (and that’s it not really called the Old Bailey – it’s the Central Criminal Court – Old Bailey is the street its in…) and discovering just how much sitting around reading is involved in jury service. I managed to finish a fairly sizeable book in three days for the first time in years! Also met some lovely interesting people – Justine, Jeffrey and Louis, who wasn’t really called Louis, but looked so much like Louis Theroux (clearly we weren’t the first to notice), that a re-christening was in order to keep everyone amused. Marvellous interesting people that made the whole process far less dull that it could have been.

Also alleviating the dullness was the book I was reading – Dave Gorman’s GoogleWhack Adventure. Dave Gorman was the chap who travelled round the world a few years ago looking for other people called Dave Gorman, based on a drunken bet. Well, two years and one more drunken bet further into his life, and he’s travelling round the world meeting people whose websites contain googlewhacks, as found by the previous googlewhack in the chain – doing know what a googlewhack is? go here. Anyway, it’s a supremely funny (as in spit coffee all over yourself in the old bailey funny), endearing, moving and engaging book. The man has a lust for life and a love of meeting new people that makes his hairbrained schemes highly desireable. Get it, it’s great.

Anyway, after being dismissed at around 1 or 2 each day with no cases on offer, it gave me the opportunity to get moving in earnest on this new album, and must material has been recorded. Not sure how much of what’s gone down so far will make the cut, but there are some marvellous ideas that seem to be bubbling around. It’s catching them that’s the fun.

SoundtrackIain Archer, ‘Flood the Tanks’; David Torn, ‘What Means Solid, Traveller?’; Pierce Pettis, ‘State Of Grace’; Eric Roche, ‘Spin’; Pat Metheny Group, ‘Quartet’.

Tags: Uncategorized

One Step Beyond

April 2nd, 2004 · Comments Off on One Step Beyond

So I was just looking for a CD to soundtrack me washing up, and thought ‘ah I’ve not listened to that for a while, let’s give it a go’. The CD in question is ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ by Pat Metheny and John Scofield, a CD that I distinctly remember thinking ‘file under not really very good’ when I got it. Was deeply disappointed with it.

It’s great. Very good indeed.

What lead me to not get it first time round? Expectation, I think. I knew what I thought a Metheny Scofield album should sound like, and this wasn’t it. I wanted it to be the album I’d half imagined in my head, and when it wasn’t, instead of deferring to the wisdom of the artist, I decided it was lame.

So what does this do to the critical process? We still have to formulate opinions on things, and something’s appear to be total rubbish, or at least disappointingly fall short of the potential that a group/collaboration/artist shows.

The problem seem to be with second guessing what a project was intended as. If there’s a stated aim, it’s sometimes easier to tell whether a particular artistic endeavour has fallen short of that. If there isn’t, it’s pretty tricky to work out whether it’s a successful rendering of the concept. Whether you dig it or not is another thing altogether, but whether it’s an objectively poor record is quite something else.

There was a discussion recently on the Jonatha Brooke discussion forum about the cover tunes on her new CD – she’s recorded ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Fire And Rain’ and ‘Eye In The Sky’ by the Alan Parsons Project. The first two are so well known they don’t even need crediting to their respective performers.

The discussion seemed to be arguing whether or not it was even valid to attempt new versions of these tunes, and involved the projection of an entire methodology onto Jonatha, implying that as a creative songwriter, she must’ve been running out of ideas or something… Whether or not people liked the covers is not something I’m too bothered by, but I found the questioning of whether or not recording them was an artistically valid thing to do a really weird leap of logic. Jonatha has, as far as I know, made no statement as to her reasoning behind doing the tunes, or her relationship to the whole original/interpretative approach to performing songs, so the whole argument seemed to hinge on the various poster’s own feelings about the importance of those songs, and jonatha’s role as a singer/songwriter/performer.

Most of it was bollocks, but it did get me thinking. Criticism can be a really good thing – sometimes bad reviews and negative comments can be helpful in that they let you know where the writer is at in relationship to your work, and occasionally – very occasionally – the reasoning of the writer is such that you see flaws in your own creative process that you weren’t aware of. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but when it happens, it’s pretty useful.

But for the most part, people tend to objectify their subjective feelings about a song or a gig or a performance – I liked it, therefor it was ‘good’. I didn’t like it, therefor it was ‘invalid’/’not good’/’a waste of time’/’the wrong thing to do’. That’s the kind of crap that as a performer you can get into debates with people about, or you can just ignore, and move on, realising that the writer has no idea what you were trying to do anyway. Even better, you can reinterpret it, extract from it their perception of what you do, and find new ways of explaining what you do that help those people get a handle on it.

Of course, in the long run lots of people still won’t get it, and lots more will think you’re a bit rubbish, but that’s all part of the fun.

Soundtrack – Pat Metheny & John Scofield, ‘I Can See Your House From Here’; Horace Silver, ‘Jazz Masters’; Jonas Hellborg, ‘Octave Of The Holy Innocents’; Jill Sobule, ‘Pink Pearl’.

Tags: Uncategorized

Gigtastic!

November 21st, 2003 · Comments Off on Gigtastic!

Right, so my phone line was finally fixed – had to replace the line from the house to the pole outside. Two days without BB access was really bad… but I got lots done… there’s a lesson in there.

Wednesday evening was the Tim Berne gig at The QEH in London. My interest was particularly high due to David Torn playing guitar, but the band also featured Marc Ducret on guitar, Craig Taborn on keys, Tom Rainey on drums and the Arte Saxophone Quartet.

Met up with Theo at the gig, and watched the first half – hard going, very dense writing for lots of saxes. Half time, moved back a few rows to sit with Bill Bruford, and musically it all became a lot easier to deal with. Firstly a piece just for the sax quartet, then the other quintet playing some amazing stuff. Ducret was oustanding – I was familiar with his playing from before due to Franck Vigroux being a huge fan of his and playing me a lot of his work, but seeing him live was a revelation – amazing stuff. The whole band was great, really energetic, some marvellous improv. After-show party was fun – nice to see Mick Karn again, who I met briefly a few years ago in my past life as a Bassist journo.

It was so good in fact that I did it all again on Thursday! Though not before meeting John Lester for lunch, and spending a couple of hours on the anti-Bush march. The march was amazing – huge, colourful, noisy and featuring some particularly, er, ‘forthright’ slogans…

Then off to Oxford for the Tim Berne gig again. This time at the Zodiac, a club I’ve played at with Airstar. More of a rock club vibe, and a very different sound for the improv bits, another blinding gig. Loved it.

And today has just been about teaching, answering stuff on thedudepit, talkbass and my own forum, which let’s be honest, kicks the ass of all those lame-o forums… :o)

Soundtrack – right now, Billy Bragg, ‘Must I Paint You A Picture’, before that, Pat Metheny, ‘One Quiet Night’ (fantastic); Shawn Colvin, ‘Fat City’; Bill Frisell, ‘Good Dog Happy Man’.

Tags: Uncategorized

lots of interesting musical things…

May 21st, 2003 · Comments Off on lots of interesting musical things…

…but first, I must tell you that there are 453 deleted emails in my outlook express right now – I’ve just gone through my inbox, which had near 600 emails in it, and replied to or filed all but 24 of them!! yippee, what a liberating feeling. NOTE TO SELF – must try to stay on top of email from now on…

anyway, music stuff – lots of exciting things. Saturday night was a sad event, the last night of the Kashmir Klub. so I went along with evil harv, sarda and cap’n-birdseye-pirate-ben. we were promised lots of special guests, but no-one was expecting Rick Astley to play. Yup, 80s pop legend, who quit music years ago, was there playing guitar for a friend of his, and was talked into doing a song. So he did ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, just him and an acoustic guitar, and it was GREAT! His voice sounded marvellous, and the song, stripped of the cheesey late 80s SAW production stood up remarkably well, sounding every bit the multi-million seller it was… For an 80s obsessed pop-fiend like myself, it was a real treat. Also in attendance for the evening – Lewis Taylor, Keith Emerson, Kiki Dee, and a few other celebs…

Then Monday night I went round to see BJ Cole – awesome pedal steel player. Pedal Steel is such an evocative sound anyway, but in the hands of someone with BJ’s skill, it soars. We had a bit of a jam, and listened to lots of tunes, and are getting together again next week – how exciting!

And last night was the best of the lot – went to see alex cook singing ‘The Pirates Of Penzance’. Alex is a drummer I toured with for a few years in the mid 80s, and a very good friend, so the thought of him dressed as a pirate singing light opera was too tempting to turn down. Sad thing was, he was actually really really good. Far too good to be funny. I was hoping for classic am-dram silliness – people falling off the stage, kids crying, out of tune oboes. But alas the singers were great, the band very good, the staging excellent. Far too good for an amateur production. Next time, rehearse less!

So tonight, I’m off to see Maria McKee at Shepherd’s Bush Empire with Evil Harv and Radar. Should be lots of fun.

Soundtrack – Prefab Sprout, ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’; Pat Metheny, ‘Imaginary Day’; Marc Johnson, ‘Sound Of Summer Running’; Rain Tree Crow; The Dum Dums, ‘It Goes Without Saying’; Theo Travis, ‘Heart Of The Sun’; Stevie Ray Vaughn, ‘Texas Flood’ and some forthcoming tracks from BJ Cole’s next album, which are fabulous!

Tags: Uncategorized

Coming Up – a weekend of delicious improv!

April 4th, 2003 · Comments Off on Coming Up – a weekend of delicious improv!

I’m really looking forward to my gigs this weekend – I’ve got two, tomorrow night I’m playing at an alternative worship service called ‘Up’ at an anglican church in Thame (St Mary’s maybe?), where Jez, Evil Harv and I will be improvising 14 pieces based on the stations of the cross – for each one, we’ve got a painting or image to represent it and hopefully trigger some ideas. It should be really good, and probably quite emotionally involving, as the stations take us from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene through to his burial…

Then on Sunday, I’m playing at the Barbican ‘ere in London – on the free stage from 6-7, with Orphy Robinson, who is best known for his vibes playing, but on this one will be playing Marimba, Steel Pans and misc. percussion, with us both looping and processing our sounds (and I’ll be looping orphy’s loops too!) – we had a bit of a play this morning just to see what was possible, and it sounded great, so I’m really looking forward to this one too. We were going to be joined by top pedal steel player, BJ Cole but he’s got a gig he can’t get out of… I’m sure we’ll get to try the trio version soon. Instead we’ve got a singer coming to sit in one a few numbers, which should be a lot of fun too… Please come down if you’re in London, it’s a great way to spend a sunday evening in London…

Before that, I’ve got a full day’s teaching on Saturday, and am playing in church on Sunday morning, so it’s going to be a pretty full weekend playing-wise! And I must remember to change the batteries in my bass, as they’ve just run out…!

soundtrack – right now, Donny Hathaway Live. Earlier on, Bill Frisell with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland and while teaching today I was using Joni Mitchell – ‘Hejira’, Pat Metheny – ‘Bright Sized Life’ and Anita Baker ‘Rapture’… Also had a listen to ‘Beauty And The Beast’ earlier – the improv piece that Jez and I uploaded to my site as a Christmas pressie a few months back. If you’ve not heard it, head over to the MP3s page and have a listen…

Tags: Uncategorized