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.

Anita and Joe gone…

Two hugely influential people have passed away in the last 24 hours – yesterday came the announcement that Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, has succumbed to the Hepatitis that had been unknowingly plaguing her body for 35 years after a blood transfusion when giving birth in the early 70s. And today, the news broke about Joe Zawinul – keyboard player with Miles Davis, Weather Report and then the Zawinul Syndicate – who died in hospital of an undisclosed illness.

Both were incredible pioneers in their respected fields, Anita raising issues of animal cruelty, fairtrade and sustainability long before they were fashionable, and campaigning vigorously on a whole host of human rights issues over the years. She proved it was financially viable to care about the planet, and managed to bring all those issues to the lips and eyelids of the brand-conscious masses in a way no-one before or since has managed.

Zawinul will definitely go down as one of the great pioneers of jazz in the last 50 years – from his work with Miles onwards, he was constantly setting standards and pushing back boundaries, developing ‘fusion’ before it had a name, and crucially before it became synonymous with overplayed wanky nonsense in the 80s. Weather Report, along with Return to Forever, took the innovations of the Miles band, and ran with them, forging a unique style, and began what became Zawinul’s main path over the next 30 years – fusing jazz with African rhythm and harmony, which lead to him bringing to public a near-endless stream of incredible hitherto unknown african musicians.

For bass players, he’s the man who brought us Jaco Pastorius, Richard Bona, Etienne Mbappe. He recorded with Gary Willis, Matthew Garrison… the man knew how to pick a great bassist.

Both Anita and Joe weren’t without the chinks in their armour – hagiography does no-one any favours. Anita was, in spite of her campaigning, insanely wealthy (she may have been giving loads of money away, but it does frustrate me when socially conscious millionaires don’t take the chance to use their wealth as a comment on the futility of it by conspicuously dispensing with large chunks of it… but that’s just me), and she sold the Body Shop to L’Oreal – now, I’ve no idea whether she had any choice in that, whether it was her decision, but she didn’t say what the rest of the animal rights world said – ‘L’Oreal?? and The Body Shop??? WTF??’ – given that L’Oreal have an APPALLING animal cruelty record. The Body Shop is still run as an independent entity within the cruel monolith of corporate filth that is the french cosmetics giant, but it’s a shame that the campaigning voice of the bodyshop is now at least partially muted thanks to it’s corporate ties. Individuals can criticise the corporate hand that feeds them, and just deal with the fall out, even if it means getting sacked, but for one company owned by another, it just gets silenced.

And Joe was, by most accounts, a misanthropic old bastard. Curmudgeonly to the core, and part of the extensive group of musicians whose cocaine usage led to the downfall of Jaco Pastorius (Jaco was completely straight-edge til he started working with Weather Report and Joni Mitchell – both seemingly blaming the other for getting him onto the ‘instant-wanker-just-add-white-powder’ substance).

However, with all these things, it’s a case of ‘there by for the grace of God’ – I’ve never been a multi-millionare, so I can’t say with any accuracy how I’d deal with it. I’ve never grown up as a jazz musician working with the king of horrible-geniuses Miles Davis, and I wasn’t a pro musician in the 70s and 80s when such an insane number of musicians were doing massive amounts of coke… I wasn’t there, I haven’t walking a yard in those shoes, let alone a mile, and the achievements of both these giants in their field of the late 20th century will be remembered not for their controversies but for their pioneering work, their progressive approach to the world, their iconoclastic status and by their fingerprints all over the landscape that the helped to shape.

Rest in peace, Anita and Joe.

"can anyone join in?" – some thoughts on Improv and Jamming

I’ve had a few messages on Myspace from people asking if the Recycle Collective is an open jam that anyone can come and play at. The answer to that is an emphatic ‘NO!’, the reason being the fundamental difference between an improvised music gig and a jam. A jam is, for better or worse, primarily about the musicians. If an audience digs it, that’s fine, if it results in some OK music, that’s fine, but in general, jams tend to follow a few set formulae – jazz standards, rock/pop classics or myriad variations on ‘funk in E’ – all fine in an of themselves, but really not the kind of thing around which I’m going to book a series of shows featuring the finest improvising musicians the UK has to offer.

Have a quick look at the list of past RC gigs on the website. The players are a) top class (Mercury Prize nominees, platinum selling, session legends, Royal Opera singers… no dead weight at all…) and b)put together in very specific combinations.

See, with this kind of improv the choice of players is the composition. It’s at that point that I relinquish my control and instead trust that the players will play whatever they think is ‘good’ at that time. And as a result, the RC has featured some of the most exciting music I’ve ever been involved in. It’s not a jazz gig, it’s not a ‘free improv’ gig in the sense that ‘free improv’ works for the London Improvisors Orchestra. We’ve had some out squeaky stuff, but we’ve also had singer/songwriters, jazz, ambient, electronica, new acoustic, minimalism, maximalism, funk, fusion, gospel and the huge list of crazy influences that Cleveland weaves into his vocal improvs!!

While it is improvised, and it’s great fun, it has none of the lowest common denominator connotations of a jam. Jamming is fun, it’s cool to jam, it’s just that improvised music can be so much more, and this ends up being infinitely more rewarding for the musicians and the audience.

If I wasn’t playing at and booking the RC, I’d be its biggest fan, by miles. It’s a phenomenal indulgence to book my favourite musicians in the world, all of whom are people I respect, admire and love hanging out with, and to make such fantastic unpredictable music with them. You REALLY ought to come down and check it out if you can…
xx

Anniversary…

Pretty much impossible to avoid blogging about the anniversary of the events of 11/9/01.

As a subject it’s so fraught with the possibility of being misunderstood in your appraisal of its legacy, to sound callous by attempting to frame the deaths in the context of the many tens of thousands more deaths that have followed based on the lies that the UK/US governments formulated about those responsible as an excuse for invading Iraq…

So I’ll start with my sadness for New Yorkers, for those who knew people involved. I really feel for the American people, the confusion it must’ve caused – the US has been pretty much impervious to attack on its own soil for ever, and all of a sudden, a few guys of indeterminate origin or affiliation managed to hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Thank God the media’s initial insane assessment of the death toll was wildly over exaggerated. Two and a half thousand people dying is an enormous tragedy. One person dying is an enormous tragedy when it’s your dad/husband/son/brother/friend. That’s two and a half thousand individuals with circles of influence whose lives were shattered.

And it’s utterly vital that we rethink the way we view those who’ve died in the middle east to see them in the same way. Because they have families, friends, colleagues whose lives are torn apart in exactly the same way. Because your country has a history of war doesn’t mean that its people are laid back about losing their family members. Because people are inspired to fight against the occupying forces, doesn’t mean that their families aren’t torn apart when they are killed.

Sept 11th 2001 was one day in a continuum that stretches back decades, that takes in the whole Israel/Palestine problem, the Suez crisis, the Iran/Iraq war, the Soviet invasion and repulsion from Afghanistan, and even further back Britains colonial meddlings and pointless wars in the region. Relations between the Arab world and ‘the west’ have been fraught for decades, occasionally flaring up into wars, but often being held in tension for the sake of the oil. Now the two have come together – it’s flared up into a war for the sake of oil.

Sept 11th 2001 stands out because a) it was utterly unexpected by the public (though apparently not by the security peoples) b) it was americans who were killed and c) the killing all happened on one day, not stretched out over a few weeks or months. It was a heartbreaking event, perpetrated by evil people that wreaked massive destruction on the city and struck right at the heart of America’s sense of invincibility at home.

But it was also used as a catalyst/excuse/fountain of lies for our governments to then go and bomb Iraq, making up all kinds of shit about links to Bin Laden, WMDs etc. etc. We all know what’s happened. We know the numbers involved in how many have died, don’t we? – Well, most estimates put it at hundreds of thousands, but here’s the rub – WE DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW. As Tommy Franks said ‘we don’t do body-counts’. We know exactly how many died in the World Trade Centre. We know their names, can see their pictures in memorial books, hear recordings of their last phone calls. The iraqis killed are collateral damage, civilian casualties, a regrettable byproduct of a war that needs to be fought…. Bollocks. They are people, with families and friends and hobbies. They are internet junkies and news-hounds, footballers and model train enthusiasts, people who grow the own food and people who resent paying over the odds for supermarket food. People in poverty and people who are doing quite well thanks. People who love their cars, people who take pride in their new sofa. Just normal people, not saints, not heroes, just people needlessly killed. Exactly the same as the people in New York. They weren’t heroes, they weren’t saints. They were people who worked for multinationals, paying the bills and feeding their families. Just normal people who were phenomenally unlucky, in the grand scheme of things. Unlucky to work in the WTC or unlucky to born in Tekrit or Basra. It’s the same shit. Same death, same grief. The numbers who died on a particular day don’t change that.

So what’s the anniversary/memorial stuff all about? Should we mark it? Of course we should, but we should mark it by vowing to stop provoking mad nutters into bombing, to stop killing, to do what we can to end the pain of loss that families round the world are feeling, the families of civilians and the families of servicemen on all sides. We should put an end to it, and put pressure on military states to end it, put pressure on Hezbollah and on the Israeli government, on the Burmese government and on the Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet. On Mugabe in Zimbabwe and on the Sudanese government. If only the big economies of the world understood the notion of being ‘wise stewards’ of what they’ve been entrusted with looking after.

The fucking nerve of our governments going to war against the Iraqis is so infuriating given all the things they ignore. The barefaced self-interest of it, couched in such transparently bull-shit-laden ‘moral’ terms. Winning the war of hearts and minds requires consistency, transparency, honesty, humility, and a level playing field.

We need peace, we’ve been dragged to war. We need to negotiate and discuss, we instead use threats and bombs. We need fair trade, instead we offer sanctions and political weighted ‘inducements’. We need to empower, instead we enslave. We need to respect and celebrate diversity, instead we talk of tolerance and ‘Britishness’. Wrong at every turn, good swapped for evil, peace for war, doves for bombs.

The long term tragedy of 11/9/01 is that instead of learning lessons for peace, our elected officials have told lies to create war. The worst possible memorial to the people who died there is the fact that a war was started and still goes on as a result of their deaths being opportunistically cited as a reason for an invasion.

Fair is foul and foul is fair.

So we should indeed never forget, but I’m buggered if I can think of any more ways of telling the governments that.

Vortex fund-raiser next week

I’ll be away, but some of you might want to go to this –

Internationally known and loved, the Vortex Jazz Club is holding its first benefit gig at the Hackney Empire on 12 July 2006 in aid of its education and community programme in Dalston, its new home.
It will be a night of stunning jazz, funk and fusion with the James Taylor Quintet and Julia Biel plus a special guest (to be announced).

Now the important bit- you need to actually book tickets!

There’s a few ways you can do this:
Call the vortex- 020 7254 4097
Call the Hackney Empire – 020 8985 2424
Or for the people who dislike talking to anyone- www.spicefestival.com

California catch-up

So what have I missed from NAMM?

Well, I posted about Thursday night – that was fun.

Friday – er, can’t remember much about during the day, other than doing some Looperlative demos, and playing on the Accugroove stand. Oh, and did a set at Modulus as well, though where Modulus is stationed, it’s all but impossible to play anything due to them being flanked by hair-metal amp companies and opposite the Taylor booth who have a stage set up with acoustic bands playing all the time. Accugroove and Looperlative are both down in Hall E where the noise level is much lower, so more people could stop and listen to what’s being played. And on both those stands I had AccuGroove speakers to play through, which made all the difference. I just don’t like using regular bass amps any more. The only bass cabinet company that comes close to AccuGroove is Glokenklang – they make some really lovely uncoloured speaker cabs. Great stuff.

Anyway, what else? Ah, Friday evening, Sabian had a big show, featuring some celeb drummers – Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio and Joey Heredia. Terry being the interest, not just because he’s already more interesting than the others, but because he had the wonderful Doug Lunn on bass. Doug’s one of my closest american friends, and him playing also meant that his wife Vida was at the show on Friday, so we had lunch – that’s what NAMM’s pretty much all about for me, catching up with the lovely people here that I only get to see once a year.

The gig itself started and was unintentionally funny – I was there with three lovely bass people – Peter Murray, Jeff Schmidt and Janek Gwizdala – Weckl came on and it took us a while to work out what it sounded like, but we hit the name on the head with ‘game show themes’ – not my bag at all, I’m just not into clever twiddly fusion like that…

So we wandered outside, and hung out, chatted, laughed a lot – all good.

Back inside for the Bozzio band, which was a whole different proposition. Some seriously dark, difficult music, that owed more to Pierre Boulez or Edgar Varese than to the usual guitar trio reference points. Alex Machacacek who wrote most of the material is a remarkable guitarist, writing incredibly dense structured music, with multiple time and tempo changes each bar. Scary stuff. Doug acquitted himself admirably, playing this scary mathematical music with a serious amount of groove and flair.

Saturday at NAMM is mayhem – way too many people there, lots of celebs showing up (eg Gene Simmons shows up with film crew in tow – I saw him there up close last year and he looks like a pile of offal from a butchers floor that someone has mushed together and re-animated. Not a good advert for ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ living.) So I stayed down in Hall E for a lot of the time, and escaped over to Subway for lunch. Didn’t even think about playing on the Modulus booth, but did a fair amount of stuff down at Looperlative, including some fun duets with Tal Wilkenfeld – a fab Australian bassist living in NYC – I blogged about seeing her play last year.

Saturday night at NAMM means ‘Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night’ – one of the best gigs of the show. Sadly this year, I missed a lot of it due to heading up to Hollywood to see Bozzio’s trio again at the Baked Potato. But not before I’d gone in to meet Patti Larkin – Patti’s a huge favourite of mine, a stunning singer/songwriter who has worked a lot with Michael Manring over the years and I’ve been wanting to meet for years. A few connections were used, and I got a chance to say hello and briefly discuss the possibility of her coming over to play in the UK – that’d be great!

then off up to Hollywood for more Bozzio/Lunn/Machacek craziness. top stuff, but a very late drive back to Bob and Alison’s in Costa Mesa.

And then Sunday – the quiet day, I arrived late at the show, and left early, but not before filming the Looperlative demo and saying goodbye to some lovely friends for another year. And I headed off into Hollywood again to see another old friend, Tanya, who I’d not seen for three years, feeling dried out and exhausted (me, not Tanni) by four days of vicious air conditioning and walking miles.

Soundtrack – in the car here, I’ve been listening to lots of music by friends of mine, to keep me from feeling homesick – Juliet Turner, BJ Cole, Mark Lockheart, Thomas Leeb… it works.

last night's gig

V. fun gig last night.

Well, winding back a few hours before the gig, the day was already marvellous as I got to spend a whole day with Todd Johnson, a fantastic bassist, amazing teacher and a lovelylovely person. I got one bass lesson for the year just watching him playing some chord melody standards. Sometimes I think I’m beginning to get this stuff together, then I listen to Todd…

then the gig – it was in a restaurant, not in a back room but in the main restaurant. The lineup for our set was me, Steuart Leibig, Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask – two basses, sax and trumpet and a shitload of electronics. The music got so far out – improv is always MUCH harder to guage with that many players, and it did get overly dense at times, but there were some magical moments, and the relaxed format afforded me the opportunity to step away from the stage and listen to how it was all working. Some lovely noises. Some lovely friends turned up, and the band after were good too, though it was very odd listening to a pretty straight fusion trio after an hour of improv chaos. Much fun. :o)

So today is a relaxing day, currently in a lil’ indie coffeeshop in Long Beach. It’s nice to relax, but time off is time to think about how much I miss TSP and the FAFs. One the one hand I’m chillin’ on the beach, but on the other hand I’m missing out on the fun back home with TSP and the friends that are staying while I’m away… bad planning!

Land of Confusion

I’m clearly determined to make sure no-one actually knows when my gig this week is! First I send out an email to a load of mates without the day or date on it, then yesterday I put on the blog that it’s on Wednesday when it’s ACTUALLY ON THURSDAY – Thursday 12th January, 2006, doors open 7pm. Don’t miss it!

it’s at Darbucka World Music Bar in Clerkenwell.

Soundtrack – Penradin, ‘Lunasadh’ (folk/world/jazz crossover project featuring marvellous double bassist Jonny Gee, and a tremendous violinist called Jake Walker, who’ll be making an appearance at a future Recycle Collective gig, for sure. Great stuff)

The king of herbal/fruit teas

I’m now coming up to my first anniversary of being caffeine-free – I had my last cup of caffeinated coffee on Dec 31st last year, and haven’t had any all this year. My only caffeine intake has been the trace amounts in decaf coffee, and even then I very rarely have more than one cup in day, often going a week or more without that.

The upshot is that I’ve become a connoisseur of herbal tea.

at the very bottom of the pile of so-called fruit teas is the Lipton mint-tea that you get in road-side cafes and cafes in the south of France. It’s shit, like some straight black tea that someone has dribbled into after chewing spearmint gum. Filth, and not fit to be thought of as mint-tea.

In the more than acceptable category come the likes of Heath And Heather and Twinings – both make a fine mint tea, and are to be celebrated when offered in a cafe or restaurant, fo’ sho’.

However, the king of herb and fruit tea is definitely Dr Stuart – I dunno what the good doctor does to make his tasty teas all the more tasty and infused with delicious tea-ness, but he’s doing it right, and it works for me. His mint tea is more minty, his peach spice is both spicy and peachy, and all the others I’ve tried have been much lovely too. Definitely just what the doctor ordered.

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).