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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California part II

January 27th, 2008 · Comments Off on California part II

NAMM was over as soon as it began. It was definitely one of my favouritest NAMM shows ever. Getting to play all the Looperlative demos (and a Modulus demo) with Lo. and getting to hang out and play a lot with Claudio was just great. Having set times to play at Looperlative made the days much easier to plan, and thanks to a food intolerance, we didn’t make any trips over to Subway (about a 45 minute round trip), so stayed nearer the convention centre for food and coffee, thus giving us more time on the show floor.

As usual, the magic of NAMM was in the lovely peoples – the rest of it is 100,000 music gear makers and sellers lying to each other for a weekend to the atonal accompaniment of slap bass, poorly executed paradiddles and 80s guitar shredding. Thankfully, in 10 years of visiting NAMM, I’ve accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances so lovely and so numerous that there were quite a few I didn’t get to see this year, or saw for such a brief time that it was actually more frustrating than not seeing them at all! So for those of you that I missed, I’m REALLY sorry. Hopefully we’ll be out in CA in the summer for some stuff – watch this space…

It was a really great NAMM for Looperlative, partly because most of the ‘competition’ were conspicuously absent from the show, but largely just because in its third NAMM show, the product has proved itself, there’s a solid user base who swear by it, Bob’s proved he can do the customer service and support required for a product in that market and price range and a lot of people are realising that to get a dedicated laptop looping set up that’s stable enough for stage usage, fast enough for low latency audio, and especially if you want to use it for processing your sound too, costs a heck of a lot of money. The software part of it may be a free download, but trying to run a looper on a laptop alongside all your other stuff and expect it to not crap out on you on tour is asking a heck of a lot from your gear… 2008 could end up being an amazing year for Looperlative…

In other gear news, Accugroove launched a new amp, that sounded great, and certainly bodes well for the hopefully-finally-on-the-way powered cabinets…

From NAMM, we spent a day in and around LA with Claudio and Alex Machacek – who inevitably found that had hundreds of friends and musical acquaintances in common. Alex gave us a copy of his new album, Improvision, a trio record with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe. Really amazing stuff.

Then it was the long drive north to Oakland for a couple of days with Michael Manring, before our last gig of the tour at Don Quixote’s in Felton, near Santa Cruz. Things were looking really great attendance-wise before the show – threads on discussion boards with folks arranging to meet up at the show. Then the weather went to shit, and a snow and ice warning quite understandably curtailed the travel plans of quite a few people. And yet we still managed to pull a decent crowd, and played some of the most satisfying music I’ve been a part of in ages. I started the show solo, then Lo. joined me for a duo set, then after the break was Michael solo, then he and I duo, and finally a trio improv piece. The improv stuff both duo and trio felt really really great, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the video and hearing the recordings that were taken on the night… we’ll see if there’s anything useable in there… Also worth a mention is that the soundman at the venue, a guy called Lake, was one of the finest club engineers we’d ever worked with. A really friendly guy, with great working gear, and just fantastic sound! It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard Michael have, and the on-stage sound was amazing too… it makes all the difference.

And then we flew back to Ohio, and both Lo and I fell ill. Proper ill. Fever and shaking ill. Yesterday was a wash-out – having hardly slept on an overnight flight, I slept pretty much all day, and then all night too. Feeling much better today.

So tomorrow we drive to New York, and I fly home on Wednesday – feel free to email me now if you want to sort out teaching stuff for when I’m back! :o) It’s time to start booking some UK gigs now too.

Tags: Uncategorized

It's ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it…

October 17th, 2007 · Comments Off on It's ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it…

There’s been a fairly long discussion on one of the bass-geek e-lists I’m on of late about phrasing and patterns and such – it started out with a guy who was feeling stuck in the patterns that he played, and was asking for a way out.

My answer to that is always the same – learn more patterns. Not wanting to use any patterns in music is like not wanting to use grammar when talking – it inhibits your ability to communicate (non-idiomatic free-improv notwithstanding). The problem – as with language – comes when you know so few patterns (or expressions) that their repetition reveals your lack of familiarity with the subject (style/tune/key/chord progression) – in Italian, I know about 6 phrases, which I repeat ad nauseum in an attempt to sound slightly less like a typical doesn’t-speak-any-other-languages Brit. But it’s clear from my limited range that I really don’t know the language. My accent isn’t bad (especially not when I’ve been there a while), but I still don’t have the vocab to sound even like an ex-pat, let alone a local.

If I could even vary the phrases I knew slightly, it’d make for a broader base from which to converse. Same with music – start by mixing up what you already know. Change one element – could be the last note, or the first note, or putting a rest in the middle, or starting the phrase in a different part of the bar… It really doesn’t matter, the point is to get away from the tried and tested, and start to branch out into newer areas.

Anyway, the discussion on the list moved away from that to what ‘phrasing’ is all about, and why (in the opinion of some of us) bassists are particularly bad at expressive, fluid phrasing. Here’s what I wrote in response, with particular reference to the quote from Stig at the top (he’s wise, very wise)


>>”also in my view, this is something that most ebass players do not do.
they tend to favor the instrument’s percussive or shreddable qualities,
and neglect the more “expressive” aspects. << Which is utterly baffling given what a phenomenally expressive instrument the bass - and particularly the fretless bass - can be... I guess that the tendency towards metric subdivision and testosterone-driven displays of dexterity is somehow related to the requirement in so much rock music to play things in a consistent, steady, non-varying way. Multiply that up to a solo and it becomes the same thing at 2, 4 or 8 times the speed one or two octaves higher... Easier to do that than to move away from seeing rhythmic 'correctness' as being about a dualist 'in time/out of time' binary equation, and instead see the emergence of a rhythmic or textural, um, gestalt (?) as a consequence of observation and awareness of what makes music connect, and then working on developing the control to execute that, based on what it is you want to play in relation to what your awareness tells you should be happening, however seemingly complex, random, a-rhythmic, poly-rhythmic or whatever that may be. There aren’t many rock/pop basslines that require you to change the tone-shaping effect of your right hand technique from one note to the next, whereas expressive shaping of a melodic line often demands that in order to set up the kind of question/answer phrase-logic that Stig alluded to.

It’s clearly a much bigger issue for improvising musicians and solo musicians than it is for bands operating solely within an idiom that has readily defined parameters – if I suddenly got the gig playing bass in Green Day, I wouldn’t be quite so aware of the benefits of understanding the influence of fluctuations in the rhythm of a loop on the listener, or how palm muting a single note in the middle of an improvised melodic phrase might make it sound more like a question than a statement, and would be far more concerned about where to place the bass notes on the beat in order to produce the kind of urgency required by the music. (something that would be much better learnt by playing lots of punk music, going to punk shows and listening to punk records than my studying rhythmic placement in any other context…)


there you go. :o) Any of this stuff could be equally applicable to any musician, it’s just that bass players are particularly geared to not play tunes well (in the same way that guitarists from a blues background often struggle with anything that needs to be rhythmically precise – their training just hasn’t focussed on those elements). Ultimately, it’s all about control and awareness, but that’s a whole other book.

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

The end of the hippie dream

June 28th, 2007 · Comments Off on The end of the hippie dream

Altamont – just the name carries so much resonance. The place where the dreams of flower power and the 60s summer of love, woodstock and hippies all went to shit because The Rolling Stones didn’t realise that – unlike in England where ‘Hell’s Angel’ just meant ‘biker with a beard and a personal hygiene problem’ – American Hell’s Angels were largely racist outlaws, who took great delight in stabbing a black dude to death at the gig.

Anyway, that was a completely different Altamont, given that it was in California, and we’re in Illinois. However, there must be some sort of spiritual link between the two, as the shitty motel we’re in definitely feels like the kind of place where a nasty murder could take place…

Still, cheer yourself up by watching this YouTube vid of me playing at the house concert we did in Dallas – Brian who organised the gig owns a Rick Turner Model 1 bass, which I HAD to play… the improv in question is a variation on the ii-V funk guitar thing that I used for the loop demo vid on YouTube, with a bit of the melody from Chameleon by Herbie Hancock in the middle of it, and lots of gratuitous shredding, but it’s a great sounding bass!

Tags: Random Catchup

Just what I need – another place to blog!

December 14th, 2005 · Comments Off on Just what I need – another place to blog!

I was recently invited to start contributing to a bass news/info/reportage blog called ‘Big Bottom’, which is at 24stgeorge.com – there a whole host of bass writers and bloggers involved.

Here’s the first bit that I’ve written for it, headed ‘You Can’t Do That On A Bass’ –

The strangest – and perhaps most surprising – factor in being a solo bassist is that your main critics are other bassists. General music listeners are more than happy to assess how your music sits with them as music, making the same stylistic and emotional responses they would to a record by Coldplay, Cradle of Filth or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Some bassists, on the other hand, tend to do two things – firstly, there are the shredders who listen with their eyes, measuring the validity of what you do by how clever it looks and whether or not they could play the piece in question. If it’s too hard for them, it must be cool. If it looks too hard to work out, that’s great. The music becomes some kind of athletic challenge, or like some kind of break-dance move, where musicians are supposed to out-do each other in the complexity and freakery of their playing.

the other response is to say ‘you can’t do that on a bass’ – those players who take it upon themselves to be the arbiters of acceptability for this beloved instrument of ours, as though the decision to play melodies and chords on a bass, or to process the signal so it no longer resembles the tradition sound of a bass guitar, is somehow sacrilegious and insulting to ‘the greats’.

I’ve had hilarious emails and responses from people in both camps – fortunately the ones who bother to contact me are few and far between – telling me that I’m either ‘not fully exploring the potential of the bass guitar’ or that I’m ‘not a real bassist, it doesn’t sound like a bass, you might as well be playing guitar’ etc. etc.

The nonsense here is that the title ‘bass guitar’ is a projection, a label, not an absolute. It helps us to define the thinking behind the design of a particular lump of wood and metal and graphite, but ultimately it’s just a plank with some strings on it. The role of ‘bass player’ is one that is perhaps best fulfilled with a bass guitar, but the possible applications of the sound produced by an instrument made with that heritage go way, way beyond anything that could be constrained by the term ‘bass playing’.

I’ve often considered relabeling the instrument I play. Calling it Baritone Guitar or something, just to get away from the weight of expectation that’s there amongst bassists that you’re either going to be ‘laying it down’ or slapping and tapping like some kind of circus performer. But I have resisted such a shift for two reasons – firstly, I love the bass. I love the heritage, I love playing bass. I chose this instrument because I love the role it plays in a most contemporary music. I’m drawn to the visceral, emotive quality that it injects into music – one listen to the White Stripes shows what happens when you leave it out! And I’m interested in taking that forward. I’m drawn to the work of a lot of the people who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on instruments from the bass family – Michael Manring, Jonas Hellborg, Matthew Garrison, Trip Wamsley, Abraham Laboriel, Victor Wooten… I like being part of that process, part of the musical dialogue with players around the world looking to further the body of work produced from within the bass community.

I’m pleased to say that those two groups – the circus fans and the luddites – don’t occupy that big a place within the bass world, and I meet a lot of bassists who are just as interested as I in the music that’s playing, who remember that whatever else happens, ‘it’s all about what comes out of the speakers’.

I encourage you to experiment, to see how your bass can fill the gaps in your band, how you can exploit those other registers that the bass does so well – melodies on bass don’t sound like guitar, they sound like melodies on bass, a whole different colour and texture.

Just make it musical.

Tags: Geek

too much bass?

November 21st, 2005 · Comments Off on too much bass?

Is there such a thing as too much bass? Let’s explore…

Sunday started at 6am – get up, load the car, get on the road. If you’re thinking of driving to Manchester, I highly recommend 6am on a Sunday as a time to go – v. easy drive, no traffic, bit frosty and a frozen window washer, but a breeze.

Trip and I arrived at the Life Cafe, unloaded our gear into the venue which was already full of lovely bassists and big PA stuffs. Park car, come back, chill out.

The running order was marvellous – started with John Lester (saving the best ’til first?), who won over the entire crowd within about 5 minutes, as he always does. Marvellous start to the day.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, lots. slapping and tapping? yes but minimal and tasteful. Great tunes? oh yes. vocals/other instruments? All vocal tunes.

next up, Trip Wamsley – Trip and I have been playing together for the last week, so I caught the beginning of his set then headed off to have a shave and a wash so as not to go on stage looking like a slightly camp homeless dude. But anyway, Trip did his thing, sang a couple of things, played some lovely fretless.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, all bass solos! slapping and tapping? mucho both. Great tunes? again, in abundance. vocals/other instruments? All solo bass, but a couple of vocal tunes.

and after Trip, Jon Reshard – Jon’s a phenomenally gifted player for his slender age – at just 20, he’s already playing beautifully and writing some fabulous compositions. There’s more than a small amount of Victor Wooten in his playing, but each time I hear him play he’s adding more of his own sound to the mix, and is on his way to being a truly outstanding musician.
the breakdown – Bass solos? all bass solo! slapping and tapping? yes, and just about every other imaginable technique. great tunes? some v. cool tunes, and some other more groove-oriented rhythm experiments. vocals/other instruments? no, except a little bit of audience sing along which worked beautifully.

Then me – my set was the usual affair, set list was Grace And Gratitude, Kindness Of Strangers, MMFSOG, Despite My Worst Intentions, Shizzle, then a bit of a Q&A before finishing with People Get Ready. Response seemed to be great (CD and t-shirt sales were amazing, so clearly lots of people were digging it), audience very attentive and supportive. All in all v. happy with my set.

After me was Stevie Williams – fantastic Manchester local, highly respected jazzer and occasional solo bassist, this time Stevie was playing with a quintet, playing some exceedingly funky stuff – the perfect balance to all the solo bass stuff that had opened the show. At this point I realised that I’d been treating the day more like a proper gig than any bass-day i’d been to before – lots of great music, an audience that really seemed to be listening, it all added up to being a fine day thus far…
the breakdown – Bass solos? a few, but shorter and tasteful. slapping and tapping? Some slap, I think, but didn’t see any tapping at all. Mainly solid fingerstyle grooving. great tunes? yup, lots. vocals/other instruments? yup, full band, drums/keys/guitar/trumpet/bass.

Who was next? Er, ah, yes, Jan-Olof Strandberg, a Finnish bassist that I’ve known for quite a few years. Lovely guy, and fantastic bassist. Started out with some solo stuff on acoustic bass guitar which was beautifully played, but sounded a bit harsh through the PA to really do it justice. Having heard Jan play solo ABG before, I know how good he can sound, so it was a shame that it wasn’t quite what it could have been, but still very good, and very well received. He then assembled a scratch band, his band not having been able to get there, including Dave Marks on guitar. Dave’s usually a bassist, but is clearly also a very fine guitarist. The bastard.
the breakdown – Bass solos? lots, but some grooving as well. slapping and tapping? plenty. great tunes? some cool tunes, some more meandering technical things. vocals/other instruments? quartet stuff was very good.

Then British-born-of-Polish-descent-New-York-residen Janek Gwizdala was on. Another player stricken by fallen band members, Janek’s guitar player is currently in hospital in London with unknown scary ailments. So Janek and his drummer improvised a set, starting out playing to a drum ‘n’ bass thing Janek had programmed in Ableton Live, which sounded great, lots of v. creative bassing and drumming. They played a few more improv things, Janek looping on a DL4, and shredding over the top in a jazz stylee. I’d have really liked to heard the trio, having heard the CD, but the duet set was still good, especially for an impromptu thang (even most improv gigs are planned as improv gigs, so this was double-improv!), Janek’s another player who is developing his own thing away from a strong Matthew Garrison influence. He’s already great, and could well end up world-beating…

The last two acts of the day switched order due to travel problems. So second last on was Lorenzo Feliciati, a good friend and very fine bassist from Italy. He had his band with him, and they played incredibly tight, funky and beautifully arranged fusion. Great compositions, fantastic playing, great sounds. By this time my ears were beginning to fatigue from bass overload, but Lorenzo was just marvellous. Great stuff.

And last up, Linley Marthe – bassist with the Zawinul Syndicate, fantastic player, some killer ideas, and an amazing array of sounds from a really simple set-up (about four stomp boxes and a wah pedal). His improvised set was a bit meandering in places, but contained enough moments of brilliance to keep me interested. Just the range of sounds he was squeezing from the bass was amazing enough, and add to that some great musical ideas, and I was with him most of the way (though he did slip into ‘Tears In Heaven’ which seems to have become something of a solo bass staple… I dunno, I’m not sure about performing songs that someone else wrote about their child dying… but maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, that was the music – except Linley, I’d met all these guys before, and it was great to catch up with so many old friends, to make some news ones, meet people from my street team that I’d emailed a lot and who’d been so supportive for years without us ever having met, and just to get a chance to chat with lots of people who were into what I was doing. We like that a lot.

A great day all round, the best lineup I’ve heard at a bass day, a very cool venue, well organised, great audience. What’s not to love?

And now I’m knackered, having done nearly 500 miles in two days, had v. little sleep the last two nights, and needing some rest. g’night.

SoundtrackCathy Burton, ‘Speed Your Love’ (I love this album more every time I listen to it).

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Italy post no. 7

July 25th, 2005 · Comments Off on Italy post no. 7

(written 24/7/05 12.52)

Right, the big band that are headlining the gig have been on stage soundchecking since 10am. It’s now 2pm, I’m supposed to be on in an hour, and there are a whole load of other bands that need to soundcheck as well. Methinks I’m not going to be starting on time.. It’s a shame, as everything else about the organisation here has been very good – the food is great, the hotel is lovely, and there are loads of lovely helpful Italians around offering to carry bags, get food, or help in any way they can.

All that’s needed now is to get the soundchecks finished, but I as lovely and helpful as all the lovely helpful Italians are, that’s really down to the sound engineers…

So meanwhile I’m listening to Michael and the bassist from the big band shredding on some standards. niiiice.

And meanwhile the connection between my new phone an the laptop seems to have been buggered up somehow – every time I disconnected the phone, the laptop had to restart, so I tried using the drag-to-trash way of disconnecting things on macs, but that seems to have deleted the connection between the two, and I can’t see how to get it back. Bugger.

Question – was Donna Lee ever intended to be a big band tune? That’s a hell of a lot of notes to try and get 20-odd musicians to play!

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Gardening and Bass Practice – don't work in that order.

July 17th, 2005 · Comments Off on Gardening and Bass Practice – don't work in that order.

So, I had a list of things I needed to get done tonight. The usual Sunday jobs of putting the bins out, checking the smoke alarms, bit of washing up etc. But also had to do a lil’ bit of gardening.

Anyone who has seen the garden at Stevie Towers will know it’s like a jungle (sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under, uh huh huh), and the suckers growing out of our blackberry bushes and out of the wild roses had got well out of hand encroaching onto the lawn (or savannah as it’s more properly named). They were also cutting off access to the compost bin, so action needed to be taken against these needle sharp thorny triffids. So I attacked them, with secatures (how on earth do you spell that?) and a gardening glove, but still managed to shred my fingers in the process, making the last of tonight’s tasks – some bass practice – a little tricky.

For the gigs in Italy next weekend I really need to get practicing, given that I’m only taking my fretless with me, and so will have to play all the chordy tunes like Kindness Of Strangers and Despite My Worst Intentions on the fretless as well (and maybe even Shizzle). That’s going to take some practice, and it’s also going to require that my hands are in proper working order, not lacerated by evil garden monsters.

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The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging

May 29th, 2005 · Comments Off on The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging

So The Small Person and I have been doing some much needed spring cleaning. TSP is very well organised at things like this, and I deal well with being given one big but simple task to do. Mine was breaking up all the millions of cardboard boxes that we’ve accumulated so that we can fit them into the car and take them to the local recycling centre tomorrow.

I’m suddenly aware again of just how much excess packaging we’re given with everything! The polystyrene is particularly frustrating as our local recycling centre doesn’t take it, and I can’t think of any possible use for it. At least the stuff that’s packed in cut ‘n’ folded cardboard mounts can be recycled easily, or even composted if we could be bothered to shred it. Polystyrene is the great evil. or at least a great evil. There are others. Celine Dion, for example. Or Walmart.

So I’m sure this task will drag on and on, and we’ll be tidying on and off for years, but at least we’ve made a start, after five years of not tackling this stuff!

Another job that definitely needs doing is my henna-ing my roots – if I leave it go any more grey, I’m going to slowly morph into Mitch, out of Mitch and Mickey

Truly frightening!

SoundtrackKris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Bob Marley, ‘Legend’; Sarah Slean, ‘Night Bugs’.

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