NAMM over for another year

Me and Lee Sklar

Originally uploaded by solobasssteve.

Wow, a crazy NAMM weekend – very little time for anything outside of NAMMness, hence the lack of blogging, but a great weekend nonetheless. One of the things I did this year that I always forget to do was to take a few pictures with people I like, such as this one with Lee Sklar – Lee’s an incredible bassist, and very very lovely man, who has been very complimentary about what I do for a long time. A great bloke and an amazing musician. go and check out my other Flickr photos for some others, including one of me with Alex Webster, the bassist from Cannibal Corpse – a lovely friendly guy who bought a CD and I gave an impromptu lesson to… completely at odds with the utterly sickening lyrics on a lot of their stuff… Never judge a book by it’s cover, or a bassist by the twistedness of his band’s album covers (sensitive readers are advised not to do a google search on CC’s album sleeves)…

OK, let’s catch up on the last few days – Thursday daytime was spent playing on the Looperlative and Accugroove booths, then the evening was The NAMM Bass Bash, where I was playing with Trip Wamsley. I was told it started at 7, but I got there at about 6.30 and TRip was already on stage playing!! So I set up next to him and joined in – we did a rather cool spacey version of Behind Every Word, which went into a huge sprawling ambient thing that briefly morphed into Radar Love… not sure what happened there. Still, Trip was on top form, playing beautifully. The rest of the evening was spent with friends – Doug and Vida, Claudio Zanghieri, Jeff Schmidt, Todd Johnson and Kristin Korb (whose duo set was amazing), Steve Bailey, Gary Husband and others… Much fun.

Friday day was more playing for Accugroove, Looperlative and Modulus, and in the evening a bit of a bass player hang for dinner with Peter Murray, Claudio Zanghieri, Dave Freeman, Chris Tarry| and Yves Carbonne – all great musicians and lovely people. Then late night I drove up to Hollywood to see Doug Lunn and Alex Macachek play with Terry Bozzio’s trio, which was excellent as always.

Saturday back at the show, yadda yadda, and in the evening was invited to play a house concert with the delightful and truly wonderful Vicki Genfan, which as with most of those kinds of gigs involved playing gorgeous music and wonderful people in a great house. What a fun night!

And today, the last day of the show, demoing the Looperlative, playing with Claudio at Modulus and catching up with more friends that I hadn’t seen over the rest of the weekend. All good nothing bad.

So all in a great time – here’s a partial list of the lovely people I got to catch up with, albeit briefly in the case of some of them – Claudio Zanghieri, Peter Murray, Kerry Getz, Anderson Page, Chris Tarry, Dominique Di Piazza, Hadrien Ferraud, Jonas Hellborg, Markus Setzer, Trip Wamsley, Jeff Schmidt, Gary Husband, Vicki Genfan, Thomas Leeb, Doug Wimbish, Yves Carbonne, Stu McKensie, Scott Panzera, Todd Johnson, Kristin Korb, Jake Kott, Mark Wright, Bob Amstadt, Lowell Packham, Jerry Watts, Doug and Vida, Lyle Workman, Jeff Campitelli, Lee Sklar, Leo Nobre, Alex Webster, Lynne Davis, Ron Garant, Justin Medal Johnson, Ed Friedland, EE Bradman, Bill Leigh, Terry Buddingh, Jean Baudin, Jeremy Cohen, Max Valentino, Norm Stockton, Joe Zon, Seth Horan, Marcus Miller, Monster, Steve Bailey, Alessandra Belloni, Joe Perman, Muriel Anderson, Alain Caron, Tony Levin… the list goes on and on, and I’ll add to it if you email me and remind me that we met and I’ve left you off – it’s 1am and I’m getting sleepy!

So, NAMM over for another year, lots of follow up to do now for gigs, teaching and new friends. All good nothing bad.

The disappearance of the best gig in the country…

Ronnie Scott’s is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. It’s legendary. The late saxophonist who gave his name to the club was clearly a tireless campaigner for jazz music in London, and for as long as most jazzers can remember, Ronnie’s was a place to go and hang, to meet other musicians, hear some great tunes.

They’ve always done really cheap tickets for MU members, and best of all, they always booked a local band to play opposite the big names. It was pretty much the only serious venue around that booked UK jazz acts for week-long residencies. the money wasn’t great, but it was fabulous exposure, a chance to shift a load of CDs, and a great one for the CV. Without doubt, one of the best gigs that any UK jazz band could get booked for. I’ve seen some great stuff there – Ben Castle’s quartet opposite The Yellowjackets, Christine Tobin opposite Gary Husband….

well now, they’ve refurbed the building, but made a right arse of the booking policy and now have a house band. The James Pearson trio play every night, with a different guest. Yup, just like a regular restaurant gig. There are lots of these kinds of gigs around – house trio, hired in front person, plodding through the Real Book, sometimes playing lovely versions of standards, often sounding a bit bored. It makes a really nice accompaniment to dinner and is a great way to spend £4 if your local pub has put a gig on like that in the back room.

But, it’s not what I’d expect if I’d just paid £45 (£45!!!!!!!!!!) to see Chick Corea or Wynton Marsalis or whoever.

I’ve not heard James Pearson play. This isn’t about him or his trio. It’s just that the format isn’t an art gig. It’s not fair on the front person to not have their own band there – Theo isn’t going to sound anything like his records with some generic trio behind him. You can’t turn up to a blowing gig and expect them to play Schizoid Man. Ben Castle couldn’t go in with the chart for Mousecatcher General. They’ll just end up playing Satin Doll and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and it’ll be like any other restaurant gig in London.

So, if you feel moved by this, feel free to boycott Ronnie’s. email them and tell them why, if you like. I just think it’s sad, and will take my custom and my gig money to The Vortex, or the 606 or just about anywhere else instead.

Good times, bad times..

My what a mixed up week!

Starting with the screwed up car – bad times.

Then Tuesday I had a rehearsal with Julie for our gig at the National Theatre on the 31st – got lots of songs done, including songs by Green Day and The Cure. It’s going to be a fab gig. – good times.

Wednesday was another great rehearsal, this time with Andrea Hazell – Andrea’s only improv experience before this was onstage at Greenbelt last year with me, so she came round for a run through before thursday’s RC gig. Working through various ideas we found that Dido’s Lament by Purcell worked beautifully when looped and layered over ambient mush! – good times.

Which leads us to Thursday and the RC gig. The day started with renting a car – Enterprise do a scheme where they pick you up for free as well, which was nice. I then set off to pick up Todd from Peckham. When, after an hour and a half I hadn’t reached the river, I had to admit defeat to the traffic and head back home, leaving Todd to get the bus to the gig! – bad times, but at least I got to have a listen to the whole of the new album on the in-car CD player and check out what it sounds like in another situation. it’s pretty damned fine sitting in traffic music!

Anyway, came home, loaded the rental car, with gear and TSP, and headed down to Darbucka. Got there nice ‘n’ early, got set up and sound-checked, and even the sound check was sounding lovely. It’s safe to say, that this Recycle gig was one of my all time favourite gigs. Y’all know by now the the RC is ALWAYS stunning, but this perhaps even eclipsed the others. I started solo, with a glitch-free version of ‘Behind Every Word’ (first time that my opening tune at the RC has gone off without a hitch)… However, the loop gremlins just hid until my second track – some weirdness going on in ‘FRHU’ but it was still fun. Followed that with ‘Grace And Gratitude’, then got Andrea up to join me. We did two long pieces – the first a wordless improv, and the second was the Purcell – the purity, clarity and power of Andrea’s voice makes for a completely unique duo experience. Like so many people, the harshness of bad opera has left a bad impression on me, but working with Andrea shows just how good operatic vocals can be when performed by a world class singer. A total joy.

After the break, Todd Reynolds was on. I already knew Todd was amazing, world-class. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how awe-inspiringly amazing he would be as a solo performer. This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest virtuoso performances I’ve ever seen – it’s hugely inspiring to watch someone play who has obviously dedicated such a super-human amount of time, energy and love to being right at the top of their game. I can count on one hand the performers I’ve ever seen of equivalent levels of skill and beauty in their playing – Gary Husband, Show Of Hands, Antonio Forcione, Michael Manring… it’s a tiny tiny select group that serve as a wake-up-call to the rest of us to up our game considerably. I don’t think I’ve ever heard violin played like that live, even on video. It was a fairly small crowd for the RC, but every single one of the people there got a major treat checking out Todd’s magic.

And then the improv bit at the end, the musical equivalent of a 70s wrestling ‘royal rumble’, only a bit more gentle and considered. For this, the three of us were joined half way through by Julie, and the transition from the layers and layers of Andreas’ huge expansive voice fading across to the intimate exquisite layers of humming from Julie was definitely one of my favourite improv moments ever.

How lucky am I? Definitely Good Times.

And then today. I took the rental car back, they found a stone-dent in the back door (was it there when I got it yesterday? I didn’t see it…) and charged me £75 for it, making a grand total of £105 for the day’s car rental. Bollocks. Bad times. Then, just as I arrive home, the garage calls and tells me my car’s ready – £666,69. I’m not sure if the number’s significant, but it’s certainly an evil amount of money. Still, they are a fantastic and trustworthy bunch of guys, and it was really nice to get back in our car. It’s the first time ever that the switch from rental car to own-car hasn’t been a disappointment. This is one lovely car, and even with the blown gasket, I’m still hugely grateful to the lovely G and J for selling it to us for a solo-bass-wages sized sum. So bad times on the cost, good times on getting it back.

Then I come home and finally start to tackle the monumental task of tidying my office. – scary times. The problem is, I’m halfway through and need to somehow make it so I can teach in it tomorrow! arrrrggghhh!

Good times, bad times, you know I had my share…

3 gig reviews (not mine!)

That’s not my gigs, not not my reviews. Of course these are my reviews.

For some reason I completely forgot to blog about the two gigs I went to last thursday – Buddy Miller at Bush Hall followed by Ursula Rucker at The Jazz Cafe.

Buddy’s gig was put on by the lovely people at Greenbelt, so they were hosting a bit of a reception upstairs (if you ever want to do a gig with VIP stuff going on, Bush Hall is ideal – really nice little bar upstairs…) – so that was nice, to catch up with lots of GB-related friends, and Hoda from Fender who I’d not really had the chance to chat to for a long time. All good.

Opening the show was the marvellous Brian Houston – who just gets better every time I see him play. Don’t miss him if he plays near you.

After that was some other bloke who didn’t really do it for me, then Buddy. Part of the interest in the gig for me was that the rhythm section for the gig were Paul and Phil Wilkinson from The Amazing Pilots (I say ‘from’… they ARE the amazing pilots…) who are without doubt one of the finest roots rock rhythm sections in the UK. I’ve seen them before playing both as their own gig (where Paul plays guitar not bass) and backing up Iain Archer, and they are just fantastic. As a trio with Buddy, they were amazing (though there was no evidence of them being actual pilots). Alternately rocking out and acoustic balladeering, the evening was just magic.

Sadly I had to bail out about four tracks from the end of their set to get over to see Ursula Rucker. A gig that I really didn’t know much about other than a) Andy Hamill was on bass and had put me on the guest list and b) it involved, in some way, looping and poetry. Sounded promising. Lived up to the promise – Ursula is kind of a female Michael Franti – political poet, to eloquent and erudite to just be simply a ‘rapper’, she’s a soul singer/poet/thinker/activist, and puts on a slamming show. Her core band was Tim Motzer, looping and processing an acoustic guitar, and a drummer (whose name I can’t find just now), and they were augmented for a couple of tunes by Andy on bass and Julian on violin. All in all, a crackin’ gig.

And then, leaping forward to last night, Gary Husband was playing at St Cyprians. Well, was meant to be playing at St Cyprians, but there’s no heating in there, and the piano wasn’t tuned, so it was moved over the road to a school, a Yamaha C3 was hired in, and all was well.

Gary, for those who don’t know about such jazz-related things, is in the rather unique position of being pretty much at the top of his game worldwide as both a drummer AND a piano player. Last night was a solo piano gig (augmented at times by some extra layers of piano and percussion on multitrack), and was mind-blowing. It’s SO rare to hear that level of instrumental virtuosity without it either being smug, sterile or both. This was neither. Which was all the more remarkable given that the two sets were inspired by, and consisted of pieces written by or based on – Alan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin, both of whom are often seen as being monster technicians over and above their contribution to the world of jazz composition.

The playing, the arrangements, the performance and the banter were all top class, leaving no-one there in any doubt at all as to Gary’s standing in the world of piano players. I can’t think of many players who could have done anything even close to what he achieved. A hugely inspiring gig.

For the second time this week…

…I went to see Gary Husband’s play at Ronnie Scott’s last night. It was their last night at the venue, and it seems like they saved the best til last. Another breath-takingly good set – incredible levels of musicianship, some beautiful writing, and the most marvellous interplay between the musicians. Definitely one of the finest instrumental groups I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Tonight they were in Gainsborough, so only Manchester and Gateshead to go – PLEASE GO AND SEE THEM PLAY!!

Before the gig last night I was supposed to be going to Jonny and Jenny’s joint 40th birthday, got part of the way there and heard an announcement on the radio the whole of the Hammersmith area was gridlocked by a traffic accident. Turned round and went home, only to be told that it cleared up a lot quicker than radio-lady made it sound. Bugger.

Life affirming music

So last night I went to see Gary Husband’s Force Majeure band play at Ronnie Scott’s. Unbelieveable. Truly marvellous, energising, inspiring, life affirming music. Very dense and complex and spooky at times, but never less than awe-inspiring. The quality of the musicians is one rarely seen on one stage – Matthew Garrison was obviously a big draw, being one of my favourite bassists in the whole world, a great player and a lovely guy. He played really really well, and the rest of the band, made up of some of America’s finest fusion musicians were all on top form.

The audience was chock full of lovely bassists, including Mo Foster, Dave Swift, Nick Fyffe, Oroh Angiama, Michael Mondesir, Nathan King, Dave Marks – it’s rare that we all get to meet up, so much fun was had.

If you can get to any of the gigs, please please do – it’s not easy listening, it’ll demand your attention and energy, but it’s a band not to be missed, playing Gary’s beatiful compositions.

Go on, go and book tickets!

More great live music in England

…and I don’t just mean my upcoming gigs! :o)

is probably best known as drummer extraordinaire with Level 42, Alan Holdsworth and a whole bunch of other people. He’s also a stunning piano player, and has assembled a remarkable band under the name , featuring one of the finest bassist on the planet, , along with Jim Beard, Randy Brecker, Elliot Mason, Jerry Goodman and other top level fusion cats.

I saw them play last year at Turner Simms theatre in Southampton, and the gig was outstanding – very challenging complex music, but marvellous and uplifting too.

They are back on tour starting this Saturday in Milton Keynes, and I urge you to go check them out – click here for the tour dates, which include a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London, and gigs in Manchester, Gainsborough and Gateshead.

Chances to hear music this great outside of the major London concert halls doesn’t come along to often, so please support it. There’s been a thread on the forum about great bassists often bypassing the UK on their European tour dates – if tours like this don’t get supported, it just proves why we’re so often overlooked.

Festive Fives Pt 3

OK, fave live gigs of 2004 (no particular order etc.)

The Pixies – Brixton Academy
Billy Bragg – The Barbican
John Scofield – QEH
Show Of Hands – The Stables (and The Bloomsbury, The Borderline, Greenbelt…)
Julie Lee – The Station Inn (and Tower Records, Greenbelt, The Basement…)


Juliet Turner – The Borderline
Spearhead – Jazz Cafe
Gary Husband – Turner Sims
Carleen Anderson – Jazz Cafe
Psychodots – Cincinatti
Sam Philips – The Belcourt, Nashville

Soundtrack – Beck, ‘Sea Change’; The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’, David Torn, ‘Best Laid Plans’.

even more gigs!

Oh yes, mine and other people’s.

Saturday night I had a gig in Hoddeston (have I spelt it right this time??) – anyway, the gig was at St Cuthbert’s church (great name for a church – St Cuthbert was a monastic dude who lived on Holy Island, and even had his own Island, a photo of which will probably be the cover of my next CD….) – they do a music night a couple of times a year, where the first hour is an open mic slot for local musicians, then the second half is an invited performer. this time, it was me. The church itself was a great place to play, a lovely building. Gig went really well. It was a great chance to try out both my new bass cabs and the new preamp in my 6 string fretted bass, and both sounded incredible.

Then Sunday night I drove down to Southampton to see Gary Husband’s ‘Force Majeure’ project, with a line up that included the wonderful Matthew Garrison on bass, and Jerry Goodman on Violin. Shit, what a gig!! It was incredible. Gary’s an outstanding drummer and pianist – we all knew that, but we can now add stellar composer to the list. Amazing exhilerating music, at times insanely dissonant and nasty but still with an internal logic and a link to whatever the theme of the piece was. Gary gave little explanatory talks before each track – seems like Architecture features highly on his list of inspirations, and they tied in superbly with the music that followed. I can’t wait for the live DVD! ‘Twas also nice to catch up with friends at the gig – gary and matt, obviously, but also Shaun Freeman, the sax-dude from Level 42 and Nick Fyffe, ex-Jamiroquai bassist. Well worth the 200 mile round trip to see it.

Saturday was also Deep To Deep – a gathering of bassists from the Churchbass list, which was a lot of fun.

Ticket sales are going really well for the tour – I’m very excited about these upcoming dates! Please come out and see one of the shows if you can…

SoundtrackBill Mallonee, ‘Perfumed Letter’ (fantastic new CD from Vigilantes Of Love frontman. His best since Audible Sigh), Morphine, ‘B-Sides And Otherwise’; Dum Dums, ‘It Goes Without Saying’; Chris Potter, ‘Gratitude’; loads of my duets with BJ Cole.

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