'Too much music' – further thoughts on filters.

As I’ve said here recently, part of the problem with the notion of limitless downloads is the basic flaw in thinking it to be a good thing.

There’s never been an easier time to record and release music as a band or solo artist – anyone and her mum can get Garage Band or Audacity and record their songs. Then via the wonders of the web, you can even do one CDR, and then get it onto iTunes etc. via the internet miracle that is CD Baby.

This is, obviously, largely a really really good thing. The problem is that of filtering, and the part of that task that both cost and record labels used to play.

See, back in the day, you recorded a demo – it was probably live in a rehearsal room. You sent it, or took it to someone at a label, and asked them to come to your gig. If they bothered to turn up, they then acted as the first filter, but were obviously also influenced by audience reaction – same as it ever was, getting your mates out to a gig can really help…

Anyway, what this meant was that little labels sprang up all over the place, specialising in different kinds of music, and acting as enthusiastic ambasadors and as filters for what was good in that scene.

That’s now gone – the labels are still there, it’s just that a lot of people (like me) don’t even bother to contact them, and lots more contact them, and after endless rejections, they convince themselves they are misunderstood geniuses and release it themselves. And some times they are right.

However, a lot of the time, it’s that the music is substandard. And, back to the point about ‘value’ having a cost, when the recording hasn’t cost you anything to make, you’re automatically going to be less disposed towards making sure that it’s the VERY best you can do before releasing it. If putting a record out was going to cost you 6 months wages, you’d make pretty damned sure that it was the best possible representation of what you can do. You’d probably make sure that some of that spending went on getting an engineer who knows what he’s doing, maybe even a proper producer to oversee the project. You get outside help to make sure that you were fooling yourselves into thinking that you’re legends when in fact you’re substandard MySpace-filling nonsense.

So where does that leave artists. It leaves us needing to be mindful – mindful of the pitfalls, of the potential to overestimate how good we are, mindful of the things that we’ve overlooked because we live in an immediate culture that is all about cheapness masquerading as ‘value’. We need to make sure that the record we’re putting out there is one that we believe can become the soundtrack to people’s lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, we’ve lost. We’ve lost the battle with those who are trying to reduce the place of music in our lives to something that is measured not by its quality, integrity and creativity, but by it’s all encompassing availabilty and usefullness as an advert for some other commercial process – ours or someone else’s. We abandon ourselves to a world where we don’t get the music we want or need.

That’s why I make the music I make – I make it because it’s the music I want to hear, it’s part of a way of making music that I value hugely as a listener. It’s not fundamentally about it being marketable or popular or radio friendly. It’s about me believing that I am my own target market. What kind of music do I love most? How do I go about making that music?

That’s it, that’s what I do, and that’s what the feedback I get suggests is what my audience connects with. They’re a bunch of people who have similar taste to me, and thus click with the music that I’ve made for myself.

Of course once it’s recorded I then market it, promote it, advertise it, hope it gets radio airplay, hope it makes its way onto TV and film and into the iPods and CD players of the world’s music lovers.

And what does it mean for us as fans? It means that we need filters, we need both practical filters and abstract ones. Having to go out and buy a CD is a practical filter that stops us from wasting time on music with no pedigree. It means that we tend to buy things we’ve discovered somehow via a trusted source, be that friend, radio, review, TV, whatever…

But it also limits us to that. The digital realm, at it’s best, allows us to dip in and out of the filtered world – we can listen to a radio show, hear some great new music, then immediately get onto our music buying site of choice and buy the download, if we want to hear more at higher resolution. If we want to gift that music in a nice package, or we just like having physical product, we can order the CD.

Having access to all the music in the world doesn’t help anyone, because there’s too much of it. In the same way that very few people trawl wikipedia for news – it’s almost entirely search driven, so people find info about a subject they are already interested in – but still read random news from trusted sources (I read stories about all kinds of things in The New Statesman, just because they are in there – I don’t go searching for stories on the potential for civil war in far flung places, or the plight of migrant workers in the Caribbean… I read them because the New Statesman is my filter – if they deem it important, so do I) – we need ways of filtering for QUALITY, not just STYLE. you can search on myspace or wherever for funk bands with loads of plays, and that has some kind of popularity-related filter, but that kind of interest is driven by the degree of geekiness of the band and their ability to mobilize a an e-team, not just the quality of the music…

No, we need to be mindful of how valuable our listening time is, what a great addition truly great music can make to our lives. And artists need to think about that as an aspiration – not just putting it out cos it’s cheap and easy, but genuinely writing world-beatingly great music.

It brings me back to one of the many great points in Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative post – “The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – I want to write music that changes the world. It probably won’t change all of it, but I aim to make music that is significant, of value, and that represents everything I have to say in music, and hopefully becomes part of the soundtrack to the lives of the people who hear it. Whether I’m successful in that or not is almost moot… That’s not really anything I have control over beyond aiming for it.

The important thing is the intention. Be mindful of your intentions.

Recycle Collective gig, Tuesday 30th…

(this is cross-posted from my mailing list – thanks to the lap-top problems I’ve been really slow to send out info about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig, so am putting the word around as much as I can today, giving you the chance to make a last minute decision to come and spend the evening listening to marvellous music in the gorgeous surroundings of Darbucka…)

Sorry for lack of communication over recent gigs (if you have a look at www.stevelawson.net/gigdiary.shtml you might see some stuff that you’ve missed) – broken laptop has messed up my web-life all round… all the more reason to subscribe to the gig RSS Feed on that page… :o)

But anyway, this is really a reminder about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig at Darbucka in Clerkenwell, London – www.darbucka.com is their website.

The line-up is me on bass and loopage, Patrick Wood on keys and Roy Dodds on drums. This is a bit of a dream line-up for me, as I’ve been a fan of Roy’s drumming since his days with Fairground Attraction (yup, that was him on ‘Perfect’) through to his beautiful playing on Theo Travis‘ new ‘Double Talk’ album. And Patrick is a regular at Recycle gigs, having played with us at Greenbelt this year, and is never less than amazing – melodic, funky, inventive; the ideal improvised music collaborator! :o)

So PLEASE come down – it’s only £6 to get in, and Darbucka does fabulous food either upstairs in the restaurant beforehand, or while you’re sitting listening to gorgeous music!

Music starts at 8pm – www.stevelawson.net/gigdiary.shtml – head there for a link to a map for where Darbucka is. The address is 182 St John Street, London EC1V 4JZ and the nearest tube is Farringdon, and we’ll aim to finish in time for you to get the last tube home! Music starts at 8pm.

thanks – please check out the gig calendar for more dates and my blog for more on what I’ve been up to. Hope to see you soon,

take care

Steve
www.stevelawson.net
www.recyclecollective.com
steve.anthropiccollective.org
www.last.fm/music/Steve+Lawson

Doug Pinnick interview from March 1999

I’ve just been listening to King’s X, which reminded me I’ve yet to re-post my interview with Doug Pinnick. Doug has been one of my biggest bass heroes since I first heard Out Of The Silent Planet back in the late 80s – I was and still am a massive King’s X fan, so interviewing him was a bit of a dream come true. And it was made all the more enjoyable and memorable by the kind of conversation we had – he’d just come out as gay, which had massively upset the conservative end of their christian fanbase in the US, but on the upside had inspired an amazing album in Dogman… So we talked about all kinds of stuff – american culture, theology, bigotry, etc. etc. for hours. And with about half an hour to go i remembered that i was supposed to be getting a load of information for bass geeks, and that’s what this bit is! I’ve probably got the tape somewhere with the rest of it on, and maybe one day I’ll get round to typing it up, will run it by Doug and put it up somewhere if he’s OK with it… But for now, here’s the bassy bit of the interview, which is still pretty interesting! :o)


At the tail end of the 80s, the rock world underwent a bit of a shake up, as a handful of groups arrived on the scene, combining hard rocking guitars with such disparate elements as soulful vocal harmonies, funky bass lines and a sharp line in observational lyrics that were a far cry from the sword ‘n’ sorcery stuff that most of the HM fraternity were prone to churning out.

Bands such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Living Colour, Faith No More and, of course, Kings X, took over the pages of both the metal mags and the ‘serious’ music weeklies, hailed as the saviours of hard rock, and, for the most part, made a sizeable dent in the charts.

However, despite combining crushingly heavy guitar riffs with radio-friendly three-part harmony vocals, and enjoying some very favourable reviews, Kings X have so far managed to skirt round the edge of the mainstream without yet finding that elusive crossover hit.

Now, with a new King’s X album, ‘Tape Head’, in the shops and ‘Massive Grooves” by Doug’s solo project, Poundhound available, Kings X are finally coming back to the UK.

‘I always wanted to play bass, for as long as I can remember,’ begins Doug. ‘Eventually, I got lucky – a friend of mine gave me a bass. I grew up in the ghetto, and we were pretty poor. I never even thought I’d be able to play but this friend of mine loaned it to me and I wouldn’t give it back to him! I started playing and I was so happy! I mean, just one note made me ecstatic, and from that day on I’ve just played and I love it! I don’t remember learning how or really working at it because, even though I did, it was so much fun. Every new lick, every new note, was like “yeah!”‘

Thus begins the tale. But what kind of things were you playing along to back then?

‘It was the early 70s when I started playing bass, so I jammed along with records by Led Zeppelin, Sly And The Family Stone, Deep Purple, Yes, Kansas – that kind of stuff. I was a music-aholic! Anything I bought I would put on and play along and try to learn the licks. I did that for about two years and then started playing in bands. After that I never tried to copy anybody else – I was too busy having fun, writing music and stuff.’

What were those first bands like?

‘They were all pretty much garage bands. I wanted to just play bass but ended up singing in all of them. I thought each band was going to make it, but they all sucked! It was a good learning experience!’

How did you make the jump from garage band to Kings X?

‘I moved to Springfield, Missouri, to look for work and I met Jerry (Gaskill: KX drummer), and Ty (Tabor: KX guitarist). We formed a four piece with another guitarist for a couple of years, but it soon became evident that we were meant to be a trio!

‘After that, we played cover tunes for about five years, and then moved to Texas. We had dealings with a couple of small Christian labels before signing to MegaForce/Atlantic and releasing the first Kings X album. Since then we’ve been making records, doing gigs and going through everything everybody else goes through.’

That is, if “everything everybody else goes through” is releasing seven critically acclaimed albums, and doing regular arena tours both as headline act and as support act to some of the biggest names in rock!

There was a big change in the Kings X sound with 1994’s “Dogman” album. What happened?

‘Sam Taylor, who produced our first four albums, had a big influence on our sound, but he never managed to capture on record how heavy we are live. When he left us after “Kings X”, we got Brendan O’Brien in to do “Dogman”. He’s one of my favourite producers. He gets a really dry mix, and that’s what I wanted to go for. There’s one song on “Dogman” called Black The Sky, that is now my standard to mix to. That’s the sound on the Poundhound album – big and fat – more like our live sound’huge!’

Anyone doubting just how huge the Kings X live sound is should take a quick look at Doug’s live rig. Any queries will soon be laid to rest:

‘I use 6 Ampeg SVT 8×10 cabinets and I’ve got two double stereo Ampeg power amps – you can hook eight speakers up to each amp. They’re split in half with two electrical plugs on each amp, to cope with the power! I use an SVT pre-amp for my low end and a Fender Dual Showman for the high end, then run them both into a little mixer, through an EQ and into the power amps. Then I turn it up!!

‘People ask why I use so many cabs. It’s mainly because I like to get 40Hz and lower, to get that church organ kind of sound, so that when I hit a low note there’s that rumble that just shakes the building!’

You’ve been long associated with Hamer basses, and particularly with their 12-strings. I guess you were a Cheap Trick fan?

‘Yes, Cheap Trick was one of my favourite bands, and Tom Pederson is still one of my favourite bassists. We opened for them when “Out Of The Silent Planet” came out, and he let me play one of his 12-strings. Even though it was right-handed, it felt and sounded amazing, and he said, ‘just call Hamer up and get one.’

‘Hamer wanted to work with (King’s X guitarist) Ty’ and I said ‘What about me?!’. They replied, ‘We’ll make you some basses too, Doug!’, so I started using the 12-strings. The company started getting calls from people saying they’d see us play and were interested in them, so Hamer were quite happy to keep the thing going.

‘Ever since then, I’ve been using Hamers. They’ve made me about 12 basses, all of which have been custom-built for me. I have really long hands so I go for wide but shallow necks. I also have Seymour Duncan pickups with a power booster inside, so anything I plug into distorts. It’s my sound. The bass, the amp, the strings – which are DRs – and my hands’that’s my sound.’

Recently though, you’ve reverted to four stings’

‘On the last two Kings X albums, and even the Poundhound album, I’ve used predominantly a four-string. The 12-string is a weird animal to play, it didn’t quite fit with some of the Kings X stuff. Ty felt that it weakened the sound of his guitar, and I finally got tired of the power struggle and gave in for the sake of the overall sound. If I write a song on the 12-string then I can work the rest of the sound around it. Like Jeff Ament did on Jeremy with Pearl Jam – the 12-string carries the whole song. Human Behaviour on “Dogman” and Faith Hope Love were both written and recorded on the 12-string. I can actually play the whole of Faith Hope Love with the harmonics and arpeggios and everything on the 12-string, I don’t even need the guitar!!’

Kings X have always been known as a musicians’ band, and have been more influential than your record sales might suggest. Is that frustrating?

‘Not really. It’s great to be recognised by other musicians and we’ll always go down as the musicians’ band. It’s amazing how our name comes up in the strangest places. All across the board – jazz musicians, pop musicians and everything. But we’ve still never sold that many records. I think that was down to bad promotion. When ‘Dogman’ was released, New York radio stations were playing the title track all the time and we sold more records there than anywhere, but there still wasn’t a major single release of any of the tracks.

‘Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam was quoted on MTV as saying that as far as he’s concerned, King’s X invented grunge! When “Out Of The Silent Planet” came out, no-one else seemed to be doing D-tuned riffing like that. Then we went away for 18 months touring, got home and everyone was D-tuning, which was weird. We’re just one of those quirky weird bands, like Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Faith No More that were around in the late 80s, so I feel we were inspirational somewhere along the line.

‘As far as influencing bassists is concerned, I think my tone is what I’m known for, which is fine by me. Chris Squire from Yes is my hero, and he had such a great tone. Roundabout and America were two of the first tunes I ever really sat down to work out all the way through.

‘I’m not really impressed by fast players any more. I don’t cut them down, because that takes a lot of work. I admire someone like Yngwie Malmsteen who can sit and play like that, but I’ve stopped writing to be clever, the gigs were ending up too much like hard work!’

With Kings X signed to a new label and things looking rosy for the band, why choose now to start a solo project?

‘I’ve written about 100 songs in the last two years, and when I write for Kings X there are usually a few songs that don’t work in that format, so as an outlet I decided to do my own record. The album is out on Metal Blade, with me playing bass and guitar and do all the vocals with a few different drummers. It’s the dark side of King’s X.

‘Most of the material is real heavy but melodic as well. I’ve gone for something between Sly Stone and Hendrix, using the C-tuned/B-tuned Kings X style riffs, but with a kind of Neil Young approach too, sometimes. I’m making it real rootsy. I’ve got all the guitars tuned down to C, so it’s real low but with my usual Gospel-y vocals. It’s completely me, this is my record. I’m a control freak and this is my way of doing everything.’

This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

"this is grate!! I'v Never herd enyting this good!!"

The title of this blog post (and the idiosyncratic spelling therein) is taken from a note that was given to me at the end of my gig in Hounslow on Friday night by a young kid – a girl of about 7 or 8, I guess. It’s pretty remarkable for a girl of that age (or boy) to think, even fleetingly, that a solo bass gig is the best thing she’s ever heard. Her mother’s a very creative musician, but it’s still pretty remarkable, and delighted me.

As I’ve said before, impressing bass players is pretty simple in the moment. Youtube is full of videos of bassists who can impress other bassists with their speedy circus tricks but who aren’t selling any records because watching a low res vid online is all you need to take all there is from that kind of thing. It’s telling that two of the three videos of mine on there that have got the most views (here and here) are the ones that are ‘funky’, instant, poppy… Youtube isn’t much of a medium for moody introspective ambient stuff (for one thing, the file quality is so low that the lushness of big ambient stuff really doesn’t come across). This isn’t to dis bassists as an audience, (or indeed to dis technically difficult high energy music just because it has those qualities) just that impressing bassists with solo bass stuff is definitely going to be easier than a non-bass audience.

But anyway, I digress… The point was, it’s great to have kids connecting with what I do. I remember receiving an email years ago from a guy who said that mine was the only one of his CDs that his kids would let him play in the car… again, rather nice validation. I’ve had a week of playing to non-bass-playing audiences, and it’s been really nice. Sharing the bill with mainly acoustic acts of varying quality from the very good to the very poor indeed (particularly the one guy in Reading trying desperately to be funny by just swearing loads and writing hideously tasteless pastiche pieces about Diana’s death… total shit.) And getting a mixture of reactions from ‘wow, love what you do, will you come and open for my band?’ to people for whom it just really wasn’t their kind of thing, which is also fine (like I could change it even if I thought it wasn’t?)

Where does this tie in with the current stuff on file-sharing/musician’s revenue etc? Well, tonight’s gig was a jazz trio gig, with Luca Sirianni on guitar and Davide Giovannini on drums. Davide is a really really great drummer, such a joy to play with, and very generous in his playing. There were certain things I would go for in some of the tunes that I’d miss, and Davide was always there to make my screwing up sound intentional. We got into some really lovely grooves and ideas, but it was half way through the second set that I really hit my stride. Which got me thinking about two things – practice and the value of full time musicians. One of the possible outcomes of the file-sharing/free downloads etc. scenario is that a lot of musicians who currently make enough to live on through the recorded music sales combined with live stuff etc. are going to have to get day gigs because that revenue stream will be cut. If that happens, the world will be a poorer place, because there are some musical skills – and certain musical minds that require full time dedication to come to fruition. I’d be a much more accurate groove player if I was doing it every day, if I was in a place to practice it and gig that stuff every day. As it is, I’m good at it anyway, but that extra 5 or 10% that most of the audience wouldn’t know is missing, would make the different between me being a very good groove player and a great groove player.

As a side point – one of the things I was scared of when I started playing solo bass was that it would ruin my ability to play in bands, that somehow my normal bass playing would fall apart, when actually, quite the opposite is true. My relationship with sound is so much more advanced now than it was before I started playing solo, my appreciation for simple lines doing their job, the nuance with which I can hear and employ tiny variations in technique to make a line head in the direction I want it to go in… all of those things are better because I’ve spent years focusing on playing the best music I can possibly play on bass. The things above aren’t things that are spoiled by solo bass, they’re just dexterity things that it takes one a few songs to fall into comfortably…

But anyway, the point was, there are a lot of musicians on the edge of being able to pay the bills right now, for whom the time and head-space they have to devote to music making as full time musicians is vital to their music making process. It’s not that anyone has the right to make money through music – the selling of music is a commercial business after all, and subject to the same degree of liberalisation as any other sales business – but it’s just another factor that’s worth considering when thinking about where music and musicians go from here.

For me personally, I’ve never made enough from just gigging to live on. Never made enough from just teaching to live on. Never made enough from just writing to live on. Never made enough from just CDs/Downloads to live on. All of those combined have meant that thus far I’ve been able to pay my way, keep a roof over my head, and stay fed and clothed. If the recorded music revenue vanishes, I’d have to think where else that short-fall might be made up… It’s quite possible that the increased exposure one would receive from giving music away would result in an increase in gigs (and quite possibly an increase in teaching work, given that I do occasionally get people who’ve heard the records first and then come for lessons…) I’ve yet to see any evidence that that’s true, but I’m open to the possibility…

Whatever, these are all just musings and ponderings in uncertain times. Potentially exciting times – I likes me some progress, I do – but I’m just not convinced that that discussion is currently factoring in much other than ‘people are already downloading music for free, deal with it’, which just seems a bit clumsy to me…

Tony Levin/Trey Gunn interview from '98

This interview was from the April 98 issue of Bassist magazine – I was already a big Crimson fan, but hadn’t – crucially – been involved in much free improv (well, I had, in a ‘band’ I was in at school called Pigfarm, but I didn’t realise it was a free improv band until much later…!) – as a result, reading this interview back, my questions are pretty rudimentary. I’d love to sit down and talk improv with Tony and Trey again now, in less bass-mag-ish terms. But here it is. Incidentally, the version in the mag was butchered from this – for some reason they were doing a ‘Minder special’ (you guess is as good as mine) so rewrote all of my bits as though I was Arthur Daily having a go at Trey every time he spoke!! It was the weirdest most inappropriate bit of magazine editing I’ve ever witnessed, and I think I emailed Trey and Tony to apologise afterwards…


Tony Levin and Trey Gunn Interview

(Reproduced from the April 1998 issue of Bassist Magazine)

When a group known for pushing back the boundaries of modern music announces a series of concerts consisting solely of freely improvised music, one wonders what on earth the end product will sound like. But this is exactly what ProjeKCt 1 – 4/6ths of King Crimson – did at the Jazz Cafe for four nights last December. The concert were of particular interest to low-enders due to the presence of both Tony Levin and Trey Gunn, so after many e-mails and a couple of phone calls, Bassist managed to collar them both one afternoon part way through the series of shows, to get the low down on ProjeKCt 1:

Tony Levin: “First of all there are only 4 of the 6 Crimson guys here, Trey and I, along with Robert Fripp (Guitar) and Bill Bruford (Drums). ProjeKCt 1 is one of the many planned variations on the King Crimson theme and this one will play totally improvised – by which I mean we don’t have any plan for the music each night.”

Bassist: So, no Crimson material at all?

Trey Gunn: “It doesn’t even sound like Crimson.”

TL: “The day before the first gig we had a rehearsal day, just to check that all the gear was working. No two of us played at the same time, to avoid falling into any groove that we might later repeat. We’re trying to keep it totally fresh, and we’re pretty much doing that.”

Bassist: Is there an ulterior motive for tonight? I read somewhere that Robert referred to it as a ‘research and development’ ProjeKCt?

TG: “Well, we’re taping all the shows, but then we always do.”

TL: “Robert finally discovered that some great stuff happens but the only record of it is bootlegs, so for years we’ve been taping every concert, just in case it’s great. If something sparks, and has a good writing impetus for KC then we’ll use it, but that’s not really a plan.”

Bassist: What instruments are you using for these concerts?

TG: “I have an 8-string mono Warr Guitar, and a couple of rack effects and pedals.”

Bassist: No 12-string?

TG: “No, I haven’t played the 12-string in about two years. I really liked the 12 but it’s a stereo instrument, allowing you to have two different sounds from the two sets of strings, which seems a bit ludicrous in a six piece band like Crimson! I’ve stuck with the 8-string for a while, although I think I might go back to a stereo 10-string, as there are some cool things you can do with the interlocking strings that you can’t with the mono’but I like having less options right now.

Bassist: That’s the first time I’ve heard using an 8-stringed instrument referred to as going for ‘less options’!!

TG: “I also have a MIDI pick-up fitted. I resisted it for ten years, but I finally gave in.”

TL: “I don’t really go for MIDI stuff. I’m the opposite of Trey; I have a whole bunch of instruments on stage and a pile of little old guitar effects pedals. Though sadly I couldn’t get the Box Bass on the plane. It’s pretty un-portable!”

“I have the Musicman 5-string, the Chapman Stick and the NS electric upright that I’ve been using a lot with King Crimson, which gives me the option of playing with a bow. And I brought along a Nordlead synth, just for the heck of it – because it would fit in the case. I programmed about 30 bass sounds into the synth before we came.”

IMPROVISING

Bassist: When you get on stage, how does it start? Or is that a stupid question?

TL: “It’s not stupid at all. Sometimes it doesn’t start to begin with – the audience assumes it’ll happen and we assume it’ll happen, and nothing happens! Sometimes we all get on stage and nobody wants to start. In which case Bill starts!”

Bassist: And is any pattern or formula emerging?

TL: “I’m not an expert at this kind of thing, any more than anyone else is, but my feeling is that we’re pretty good because we do it a lot. We’ve been doing it with one song a night – ‘Thrak’ – for years. And more importantly, we all listen to the other guys, so no-one’s up there playing licks or riffs. Everybody is reacting to what’s happening, so if one guy does get onto something interesting, the others will generally lay back and leave room – generally, not always. That’s why I feel it’s successful.”

Bassist: With both of you having the capacity to play bass parts, have you had any difficulties working out who’s going to take the bass role at any one time?

TG: “I think we’re doing pretty well regarding low end. I’ve been playing a lot more low end than I thought I would – and we’re still talking, which means we must be doing something right!”

TL: “Firstly, if I hear Trey at all, it’s because Bill isn’t playing too loud! If I hear Trey playing a bass part, I’ll do something else. I might go up high on the Stick or the upright. Or I can stop, or do some sound on the synth that’s neither high or low, it’s just noise. Or I can put the funk fingers on and play percussion. I can do a lot of things. Or I can play bass as well! In fact, what has occurred, maybe too many times in this series of gigs (and you Bassist people will be overjoyed to hear this) is the sound of three fretless bass players soloing incessantly, as both Trey and Robert can get a fretless bass sound from their rig. And we’ve gone long stretches where it’s just basses galore. But my sense, if I hear Trey laying down a bass line, is to stay away. Other times, I’ll go half an hour just playing ‘bass’ bass. Trey has a way of going in and out of the bass register.”

TG – “all I do is switch string!”

Bassist – Tony do you switch instrument mid song?

TL – “This is improvised – there is no ‘song’, but yeah, I switch instruments a lot. I spend a lot of time just listening with my hand on the neck of an instrument and then pick it up and put it down before I’ve played it – people in the audience may be a little puzzled why I don’t know what I’m doing!”

TG – “when Tony’s fiddling, I go to the bass register!”

TL – “the irony is that Robert, who doesn’t need to be in the bass end, is playing quite a bit of bass!! And that’s the cool thing about this, we don’t have any rules. I think if someone were playing really badly, and taking over, then Robert would probably talk to that person.”

Bassist – Has there been any conflict?

TG – “We’re all right on the end of that thing that’s unfolding so there’s no right or wrong.”

TL – “I would say that King Crimson always has an element of what I would call tension rather than conflict. There’s a tension level in the band – not this week but generally in the band – an inner tension and friction, there’s plenty of that in KC, but less of it this week.”

TG – “As there are only 4 of us this week it OK. If there were six of us and we were doing this, that would get hard.”

Bassist – So where does the material evolve from? Do you sense a chord progression developing, or just a general feeling or what?

TL – “There are no chord progressions – that’s one problem we don’t have! No, actually last night I played some but nobody knew them.”

TG – “the ones I couldn’t find I didn’t play on!!”

TL -” there’s not much point in chord progressions as, being King Crimson, we don’t generally play like, E7 anyway, in any of our stuff, so if I laid a progression of bass notes, it wouldn’t lead to the normal chords – it’s a little further out than the jam that would result from laying down chord progressions – not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Bassist – Do you think you’ve gone beyond chords and theory to pure feeling..

TL – “I’m not beyond that, I just don’t enter it. I think you’d get four different answers to that. Bill has xylophones so he can play notes as well. Of course if he plays notes, life gets easy as they are very easy to recognise. In my opinion Trey and Robert play a harmonic style that is really nothing to do with the chords that the rest of us imply. If I’m hinting at chords they are more accessible more normal chords, but this week I’m not hinting at them very much. So what we have is kind of cross harmonic stuff all the time. I don’t know what the other guys are doing, so what I have to do is pick the notes that either blend with that or don’t and ideally I’m trying one or the other, sometimes I’m trying to make it sound nice and it sounds like The three of us – Trey Robert and I – are blending into a moving contrapuntal thing that’s not tense. Other times, in fact most of the time, I’ll sense a hovering around one key base, and I’ll go to a different one, or sometimes two, as I can play around say G on the synth bass, then reach over to the upright bass and play in F# simultaneously.”

Bassist – What has the audience reaction been like to ProjeKCt 1?

TL – “I didn’t expect the audience to be able to stand it for 2 hours and if they hadn’t done I wouldn’t blame them, but it’s been really good.”

TG – “I was not much of an early Crimson fan, but I guess that there are some people for whom this is a real treat. I think the band used to do this kind of stuff – a lot of improvising’ and a bit more jazz stuff. Actually that’s why I enjoy what we do, because we’re not jazz players, and what we play isn’t jazz,”

TL – “I get scared that the subject is even coming up! We’re not jazz but I don’t know what would define us as jazz – maybe if we had a sax player!! You got the wrong guy for a talk on jazz!!”

Four gigs coming up in the London area…

After a bit of a barren time gig-wise, I’ve got four London shows coming up – a couple more half hour sets at the Freedom of Expression nights in Croydon and Marylebone, a return gig at a church event in West London called The Waiting, and the much later on in the month, the Recycle Collective is back at Darbucka, this time featuring the genius talents of Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds.

Patrick’s done lots of Recycle gigs before, and always brings a whole load of beauty, funkiness and melodic magic to the gigs. His playing at this year’s Greenbelt Recycle gig was some of the finest Rhodes playing I’ve ever witnessed, especially in an improv setting. So I’m really looking forward to that!

Roy is an amazing drummer that I first heard playing in Estelle Kokot’s trio, then played with him in John Lester’s band at the 606, and recently heard him playing with Theo Travis’ new project Doubletalk at the Vortex. But I’ve been listening to him play for 20 years, as he was the drummer in Fairground Attraction, and has played with Eddi Reader ever since. I’ve found over the years with the RC that the musicians who are primarily ‘song’ players tend to improvise the most coherently; players who are as happy supporting what’s going on as they are leading. and both Patrick and Roy have that quality by the bucket-load. They’re both fantastic versatile musicians, and I’m really excited about it…

So for more details see the gigs page on my website, or the event page at last.fm, or the event page on facebook.

The first interview I ever did for Bassist magazine…

Long time visitors to the website will know that I used to have a complete archive of everything I ever wrote for the late lamented Bassist Magazine. From the middle of 97 to about 2000, I was one of their main contributors, writing interviews, gear reviews and two columns – the gadget guru and bluffer’s guide to jazz.

Via archive.org I recently found stored versions of all the articles again, so I’ll start reproducing some of them here over the next few weeks. – we’ll start with the first interview I ever did for them, with ‘Ready’ Freddie Washington, who was in London playing at Wembley Stadium with Michael Jackson… this one is of particular note because my dictaphone didn’t work, and I had to write the whole interview from memory – I took it to Freddie at the gig to get him to check that I hadn’t misquoted him. He changed two things – both of which were direct quotes from his bio!

anyway, here it is – enjoy!


If you’ve ever experienced the ‘Ready Freddie groove’, whether live or on one of the hundreds of albums he’s played on, then you’ll understand only too well why Freddie Washington has been a first call session player for nearly 20 years. With a CV that includes many of the biggest names in soul, funk, pop, blues, country and just about any other style that you’d care to mention, Freddie’s credits read like a greatest hits of the ’80s and ’90s. From Lionel Richie to B.B. King, Anita Baker to Whitney Houston, and George Benson to Kenny Rogers, Freddie’s laid down his trademark lines with all of them, spreading the Gospel of Groove whenever he picks up his bass.

Freddie’s latest gig is holding down the bass chair on Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour, and while in the UK, Freddie took time out to present clinics in London and Birmingham, sponsored by SWR and The Bass Centre, and it was before the London show that Bassist caught up with Freddie for a chat.

So, what exactly is the ‘Ready Freddie groove’, then?

“Well, I feel the pulse of the song in half time, which gives it a much more laid back feel. In the clinics I always point out that I have technique, but I’m not a technical player. I focus in on the groove and then work with that rather than against it. Every style of music has to have its groove, whether it’s soul, funk, fusion, pop or whatever, and that’s what I focus on – the groove.”

Freddie’s path to becoming a full fledged ambassador of the groove began when he was in the eighth grade at school, in his home town of Oakland, California.

“I started playing when I was 14, and took bass lessons at school. I played upright in the school big band and orchestra and that’s where I got my classical training and learned to read. When I was in the tenth grade, I attended the U.C. Berkley summer music program for some further training and was practising like mad, day and night.”

How did you make the jump from the summer school to taking up bass professionally?

“About the time that I was finishing school, Herbie Hancock was looking for a bassist to replace Paul Jackson, Herbie had auditioned a lot of players but wasn’t happy with any of them. So he asked James Levi, his drummer, if he could recommend anyone and James said ‘There’s this kid in Oakland I think you should hear.’ I’d known James for years, so I got the call and Herbie liked what he heard and hired me.”

The Hancock gig lasted for several years and Freddie cut three albums with the band before moving to LA to further his session career. That was in the early ’80s just as synth bass was moving onto the scene. Wasn’t it a little worrying for a ‘real’ bass player?

“Not really. I don’t think I ever felt threatened by synth bass, I just learned to work with it. A lot of the sessions had electric doubling the synth line and as my thing has always been the groove and I had worked hard on my timing when I was studying as a kid, I have never had a problem doubling synth lines and taking that programmed feel and making it groove. That’s also where playing 5-string is so necessary. Synth bass goes down to a low Bb so you need the low B to be able to compete. I first got a 5 string right after doing Anita Baker’s ‘Rapture’ and I’ve used it on most of the work I’ve done since.

“With Michael Jackson, It’s a real mix. Sometimes I’m doubling synth lines, sometimes playing synth bass and I even pull out my old Precision for the Motown set. When you’re doubling keyboard bass, you don’t have to just follow the synth line, you can work with it and develop it – that’s one of the things I like to demonstrate at the clinics.”

The Michael Jackson tour must be every session player’s dream. How did that come about?

“I was actually first up for the gig in the late ’80s, so it’s been a possibility for about 10 years. When the call came in this time, I was working with Kenny Loggins, so I think they had a little difficulty getting hold of me. When I eventually got to the phone I was told that Michael’s guitarist, David Williams, who’s been a friend for years, had recommended me, so I went up and met the musical director, and they offered me the gig and gave me the tapes to learn the set. I went home and talked it over with my family, because it’s a long time to be away, but my wife Annette is really supportive so I decided to do it.

“This is my first time out on the road since ’84, and that was only three months with Patrice Rushen, but I’m really enjoying it. I’ve always loved playing live and I see that as being where I get a lot of my new ideas from. If you spend all your time in the studio, you could get sort of stale, but when I’m out playing live, I get inspired and then take a load of fresh ideas into the studio with me.”

What about the clinics?

“This clinic tour is sponsored by SWR and we tried it out in New Zealand and Australia, where it went so well we decided to put them on in Europe as well. So far they’ve been really well received. This is my first clinic tour, but with the profile of Michael’s tour it seemed the right time to do it. I’ve been using SWR gear for over 10 years, both live and in the studio, so I approached them about sponsoring the clinics and they were all for it. I guess when I’m up there at the clinics with a room full of bassists, playing and talking about what I do, that’s really where it’s at for me. I always joke that I haven’t worked in 20 years, I’ve been having fun. I don’t think bass playing will ever be work for me. It gets me excited. I love to do it because it brings me joy. It’s overwhelming. It’s just a great part of my life. And doing the clinics is really the result of 20 years of having fun. I’m really grateful to everyone who comes out to the clinics and I like to stay around and talk afterwards.”

Indeed he does. Freddie was signing autographs and chatting to people for 45 minutes after the clinic at London’s Bass Centre, giving his time and full attention to everyone that came to say hello. The clinic itself was largely a question and answer session, with Freddie fielding questions on every area of his career, from the highly appreciative audience. Freddie also demonstrated a few tunes including Patrice Rushen’s huge hit Forget-Me-Nots, which he co-wrote and is currently being giving a fresh airing as the title track to the Will Smith film, Men In Black. The movie version features Smith’s reworked lyrics but still uses the original rhythm track, which showcases Freddie’s patented groove-tastic slap ‘n’ pop workout.

Freddie also demonstrated Smooth Criminal from the current Jacko show, slapping the sixteenth note line in unison with the synth with such precision that you’d have thought he was tracking himself with a MIDI pickup – if there had been a single effect in sight. If anyone was under any illusion that this man is a one-trick slap monster, that was put to rest with his unaccompanied demonstration of the ‘Ready Freddie Groove’ that had everyone tapping their feet and swaying despite the absence of a drummer.

So which drummers have best tuned into the ‘Ready Freddie groove’?

” That’s a hard one as I’ve played with so many great drummers. I think one of my favourites would have to be Steve Gadd. When we get together it’s like a machine. We play like one big unit, just locked into the groove. I also love to play with Ricky Lawson and Bernard Purdie. And Jeff Porcaro was one of the all-time great groove players.”

In the early years, was it ever intimidating going into the studio with these legendary drummers?

” I don’t think I ever felt intimidated by them. I mean, I knew they were great players but also that we were both there to do a job and I had the confidence to get in and do it. My attitude has always been to be totally into whatever it is that I’m playing at the time. If I’m doing a country session, I want to sound like I was born to play country. And if I’m playing blues, I want you to think that that’s all I know how to play. I just did a blues album with Bozz Scaggs, and blues is such a gut level thing that it’s all about feel. That’s why I love blues so much; it’s a total feel thing.”

After the HIStory tour, what next?

” When I get off this tour in September, I would like to do my own record. I have a studio at home and I’d like to start doing some more writing for the solo album. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, after having written for other people, like Forget-Me-Nots for Patrice, and Someone For Me which was on Whitney Houston’s first album.”

With Freddie having been on tour for so long, Bassist wondered whether or not the calls for session work dry up . At this point Annette, Freddie’s wife, interjects.

“Even when Freddie’s away, the ‘phone never stops ringing. Mostly they want to know when he’s going to be back so they can book him for then. Freddie gets booked because he can play whatever is asked of him but also because he’s good to have around, and that counts for a lot.”

“That’s right,” Freddie adds. “For any gig you need to have all the skills to do whatever’s asked of you. That’s why it’s important to learn to read and to play by ear, and also to develop your sound so that when you play, it’s you that they hear – that what’s inside of you comes out in what you play.”

Which players influenced your sound when you were starting?

“When I was growing up, there was Motown, with all the James Jamerson lines, though no-one knew who he was back then, and there were all the James Brown bassists, as well as Larry Graham with Sly Stone and Graham Central Station. I used to play along with a lot of their records. Larry was a big influence. When he started doing all the popping it was like, whoah! I recently bought some of the Graham Central Station CD reissues in Japan and hearing them again now after more than twenty years, his playing still sounds amazing! Willie Weeks was another big influence, his playing with Donnie Hathaway was awesome. And Chuck Rainey, he could be so busy but under it all there was this huge groove holding it all together. I knew Paul Jackson, who was in Herbie Hancock’s band before me, when I was growing up. I had his old amp in my loft to practice through, and knowing him meant that there was no sense of being overawed by taking his place in Herbie’s band.

“All the great players have their own voice on the instrument. Here in Britain you have Pino Paladino, who I met while doing Michael McDonald’s ‘Blink of An Eye’ album. He’s a brilliant player and has his own sound, you immediately know it’s Pino on a track. I met Jaco Pastorius around ’79-’80, and he was really cool. He showed me a thing or two, and I really liked his style but I never tried to copy him. His sound was him and as I said, I’ve always had my own sound, from really early on as a player. If you compare my sound now with when I was with Herbie there will be some differences because the technology has changed but the essential sound is still the same because it’s in my hands.”

On stage Freddie is the consummate professional; offstage he’s friendly, approachable and obviously totally loves his job and is a delight to meet. For those who were at the clinic, it was a night to remember, and for those who weren’t, one to regret.

‘ Thanks to Nick and Martin at the Bass Centre for setting up the interview.

The HIStory Show.

The British leg of the Michael Jackson tour was four dates long, with one show in Sheffield and an astounding three nights at Wembley arena. Bassist went to the final Wembley show and witnessed Freddie demonstrating the kind of professionalism and versatility that he had talked about at the clinic. Being the HIStory tour, the set included material from every stage of Michael’s career, from I Want You Back up to Blood On The Dancefloor, including plenty of tunes from ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’. Freddie played his Ken Smith 5-string for the lion’s share of the material, but switched to a Precision for the Motown set and played synth bass on Thriller, Billy Jean and Blood On The Dancefloor, Freddie’s bass, along with Jonathan Moffett’s bass drum, shook the whole stadium especially on the bass-heavy Earth Song and slap-happy Smooth Criminal. It’s just a shame that the huge venue meant the band was barely visible at the back of the stage and even Michael was just a manic dot on the horizon. Most of the evening was spent watching the not-so-giant screens, which focused on Michael and the dancers, so clear views of Freddie were few and far between.

Though a tad tasteless at times (Michael refusing to move from in front of a tank? Do me a favour!) the whole show was spectacular, for those of us tall enough to see it. The vertically challenged members of the audience had to make do with seeing the top third of the video screens with brief glimpses of Michael when he swung over the crowd on a crane.

The invisible engine of music…

One of the great things about teaching bass is that questions, comments and observations from my students spark off trains of thought that get me reconsidering the nature of what we do as musicians, and obviously more specifically as bassists.

I was talking this morning with a student about the art of simple bass – the zen of bass – playing lines that on the surface are almost mind-numbingly simple, but thanks to the whole universe of intention that can exist in every note, can utterly define the song.

One of the examples we used was Nick Seymour of Crowded House. Neil Finn is a genius songwriter, truly one of the great songwriters of the last 20 years, IMHO. But what is it about Crowded House that stops them from sounding like a stadium emotional rock band? Largely, it comes down to two things – the production ideas of Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, and the rhythm section of Nick Seymour on bass and the late and dearly missed Paul Hester – the production stuff adds tonnes of variety to the arrangements – guitar sounds popping up for two bars and then vanishing again, processed bits of voice and weirdness coming in and out. But the rhythm section do one really crucial thing that lots and lots of modern bands miss – they don’t play in the studio like they’re playing in an arena. One of the tragic things that happens to bands when they break into the arena-gig-world is that they start writing songs, and more importantly arranging songs, to fit in that environment. You only have to compare the first two Coldplay albums to hear the difference. The first Coldplay album is a gorgeous fragile intimate affair – sure, there’s plenty there that can be turned into flag-waving stadium bombast when required, but the record doesn’t sound remotely like that. The two albums that followed are both written for stadiums, and mastered for radio. They don’t make that distinction between tracks that sound great when played on your own at home and arrangements of those tracks that sound great in front of 40,000 people.

And in those arrangements, the first things to vanish are the intricacies and interest in the rhythm section – compare what Adam Clayton was doing on Unforgettable Fire with just about anything he’s done since…

It’s what I think of as ‘Journey Syndrome’ – writing songs for stadiums. It’s the death of subtlety. The stadium rock bands of the 80s did it, in those innocent irony-free days. Before them, bands seemed to be able to make it work. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ doesn’t sound like a stadium record, the 70s Aerosmith records don’t sound like Stadium records – they were just great records that translated well into that environment, but still worked at home. Crucially, they weren’t squashed into a 5dB dynamic range like so much unlistenable modern rock. It’s so depressing that the hundreds of bands around now trying desperately to sound like Talking Heads have missed the genius of the Talking Heads sound: Space. As Candy Flip told us in the early 90s. You Need Space. Talking Heads were all about Space. So many recent bands that I really like in principle are messed up by writing for arenas and mastering for radio. Muse, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs. All largely unlistenable on record, unless you’re playing them on the really shitty little stereo in the kitchen or on laptop speakers. Muse and the Killers both mess up my theory about dull rhythm sections, in that they both have really cool bassists, though I haven’t heard the second Killers album, so need to give it a spin and see if they’ve gone the way of Coldplay…

Some bands never got what the bassist was for in the first place – for all their desperation to sound like The Beatles, Oasis had one of the shittest bassists ever to strap on the instrument in poor ole Guigsy. He really couldn’t play. As in Alec John Such level uselessness. Missing the vital point that one of the things that was most remarkable about the Beatles was that in the later years, Paul and Ringo were the UK end of a transatlantic axis that changed the world of rhythm sections for ever – the US end being the Funk Brothers at Motown. McCartney’s bassy stuff was integral to the sound and genius of the Beatles. Imagine Guigsy playing Penny Lane, Paperback Writer, Rain, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer etc… Again, Oasis’ obsession with being the world’s biggest band extended to them arranging their stuff to be sung on the terraces – where it does indeed sound amazing – but meant that they were never going to be artistically a sensible comparison with the Beatles, even as Beatles copyists…

For one great example of how a rhythm section can make or break a song, have a listen to the Fleetwood Mac original of Dreams, and then the Corrs remake. Andrea Corr has a lovely voice, and does a pretty nice version, albeit a carbon copy of the phrasing and shape of the original. But the utterly soulless anodyne arrangement of their version that loses all of the tension, space and human feel that made the whole of the Rumours album so good. The Corrs version is pretty much music for people that really don’t care about music. It’s good, it’s just not good. Music by committee. This isn’t meant to turn into a rant about the Corrs – gawd bless their freakishly perfect gene pool – more a word of caution to those of you in bands not to get caught up writing music for arenas, not to get obsessed with making your album as loud as it can possibly be. If you have to, do a super-compressed version to send to radio, just don’t make the rest of us suffer through it.

Last week, I witnessed an absolute masterclass in how to play bass in a stadium – the Police reunion show at Twickenham. For all his musical sins of recent years, Sting, in the context of the Police, is still one of the most imaginative, interesting and instantly recognisable rock bassists around… bizarre given that he’s playing lines that he wrote almost 30 years ago, which still sound fresher than 90% of what’s around today. The Police’s sound always had loads of space in it, in between Stewart Copeland’s out of time but full of energy drumming (still drifting all over the place tempo-wise, but crammed with that punkish drive that made them so compelling first time round) and Andy Summers spacey delay-drenched guitar parts (until he attempted an ill-advised jazz workout on, I think, So Lonely – not to put too fine a point on it, it was a disaster). Still, Sting and Copeland put on a show of just how defining a rhythm section can be if the musicians put their mind to it. Proper magic. (click here for my photos of the gig.)

Last night's Recycle Collective gig…

Ah, it’s good to be back Recycling! :o)

It took Lo. and i ages to get to the venue, thanks to nasty south London traffic, but we’d left plenty of time, so no panic. When we got there, Cleveland was already setting up, Sarda and Kari were downstairs, Oli was sorting out the venue, and all was familiar. We set up, and just listening to Cleveland soundcheck made me realise how much I’ve missed hearing him perform in the last 9 months – for all of 2006, he was doing the Recycle Collective every 2 or 3 months, so I got to both listen to and perform with him a lot. He’s definitely one of my favourite solo looping performers anywhere, and he gets more proficient with the technology every time I see him play.

So the gig itself started with me solo, with a couple of improvs, including the now-fairly-regular one based on Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G, and then I got Andrea Hazell up, for a big sprawling open ambient piece – Andrea’s voice lends a gravitas to everything she sings on, as noted before. Lovely stuff.

We then finished off the first half with some trio improvs, some cool funky stuff with Cleveland beatboxing, and some more spacey ambient things.

Second half started with Cleveland on his own, but he very quickly got Andrea up to join him, and their duo segment was really really wonderful – their voices combine so well, and the juxtaposition of his funkiness and her operatic poise was beautiful. I really hope we get to hear more of that!

Cleveland invited me back up, and we went into more funky, spacey territory with Cleveland launching into a tune from Carmen, which he and Andrea then played around with for a while which was both marvellous and hilarious, especially when Cleveland went into a patois/ragamuffin version – really magic stuff!

And to finish the night, I got Lo. up to sing with us, and she improvised a really gorgeous sound, that Cleveland added harmonies to, and the three of them stacked vocals for a big ambient ending. Lovely lovely music.

It was really lovely to play the vortex, though with the venue shift and the big break from the last show to this one, the audience numbers were down on our Darbucka averages… We should be back with a Darbucka show in October – watch this space, I’ll be booking it ASAP!