Bass Extremes

12 08 2010

I was recently reminded of this video (which I own and used as inspiration for some time) from two masters of the bottom end. This trio, Bass Extremes, is the brain child of world renowned bass players Steve Bailey and Victor Wooten. Before starting this side project, they built their careers as 1st call sideman to some of the biggest acts in the biz, as well as doing session work on numerous albums and actively teaching at various institutions around the country. One look at these fellas and you’ll see they are truly musician’s musicians. Not to say that their music is completely inaccessible to the common music fan, it most certainly is, but they are guys who have been playing their instruments with an insane fervor to learn and develop their technique since they picked them up. Both have played since they were just kids. In Vic’s case, he was about 4 years old when he started playing live with his older brothers. The Wooten Brothers even toured with Curtis Mayfield and were almost the next big thing in R&B until the Jackson 5 stole their thunder. Steve used to spend hours practicing in a literal woodshed (not just a term from the old jazz days) at his parents home in South Carolina. He once told me he would try to practice 12 hours a day… which always seemed impossible to me. Nevertheless, he said he would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to practice, go to school, think about playing while in school and then come home and immediately get back to practicing, going until the sun went down. Somehow he got some surfing in there too but I never asked about that.

They were inspired by the giants that came before them. Guys like James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Jerry Jemmott, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and many others. They have made it a mission to carry on that tradition of discovery and exploration to a younger generation of players. All of these men are part of a small group of players that have dedicated their lives to pushing the boundaries of what could be done on the bass and, consequently, have redefined the instrument and the expectations of it’s role in music. These 2 videos will show you what I mean. They are taken from an instruction video where they play a song live and then follow that with a little Master Class session explaining the techniques they use and how they developed those techniques.

Keep in mind this is just a trio: 2 basses and drums. The reason it is not overly muddy is that the bass voices are quite distinct. Vic plays a fretted four string that is often tuned up to be an octave higher, known as a tenor bass. Vic is famous for his unique thumb and pluck style which has taken “slap bass” and reinvented it. Steve plays a fretless six string which allows him to play more chords and sweeter tones. He is a master at using harmonics, more specifically artificial harmonics which allows him to play many octaves higher than the instrument was intended. It all makes for a very clear and well organized sound… sonically speaking. Oh yea, the drummer is famed session man Greg Bisonette. *I should add this video was shot during the early 90’s and REALLY looks dated. The moustache, hair and clothes are all a little tough to take seriously but the music is just the opposite. Enjoy.

This song is inspired by Stanley Clarke. It’s called “Stan The Man”.

This next one is inspired by another one of their musical influences, this time piano player Chick Corea. It’s called “A Chick From Corea”. One thing you have to know about these guys is they don’t take themselves too seriously. Consequently, they have silly senses of humor, often cracking dumb jokes and they love bad puns, hence the title of this song.

If you are curious, there is a lot of other footage of these guys out there, both playing together, solo and with other ensembles. Much of it is pretty remarkable, especially Vic’s solo stuff. Check it out, it’s incredible to watch.

References:

Steve’s Official Site

Vic’s Official Site

More info on Bass Extremes

More info on Steve Bailey

More info on Victor Wooten

More info on Jaco Pastorius

More info on Stanley Clarke

More info on James Jamerson

More info Chuck Rainey

More info on Jerry Jemmott

More info Marcus Miller

More info Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn

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Play Me, I’m Yours in NYC

7 07 2010

Play Me, I’m Yours is an art installation from British artist Luke Jerram. It’s a project he has been touring around the world since 2008. This Monday concluded the 2 week New York debut, which was the largest version yet with 60 pianos being rolled out all over the city. Subsidized by Sing for Hope, the pianos were refurbished and placed in various parks, plazas and on street corners throughout the 5 boroughs.

I love this idea and wished that I had stayed in NYC just a bit longer to see it first hand. It’s not just a great way to bring music to the streets of the city but it also brings the people together as they enjoy, share and participate in the music.  Keep in mind, these pianos are intended for the public, not just street musicians or seasoned professionals. The concept is that anyone is welcome to sit down and play, regardless of their ability. It’s an open invitation to share music with the people around you, whether it’s “Beethoven’s 5th” or just “Chop Sticks”.


In response to the NYC roll-out, Jerram has said, “I’m amazed at how well my artwork has been so well received. It seems like half of NYers know how to play piano!? I’ve always had the feeling that Play Me, I’m Yours was meant to be presented here. There’s so much talent here and people willing to express themselves. I’m so grateful to Sing For Hope in making this dream come true.” See more quotes

The response has been amazing, running the gamut of possibilities. Up and coming professionals have used it as a way to showcase their music in the public domain, something that usually requires a city permit, and the occasional “big name” has sat in unexpectedly to share their gift.  Street musicians have found it to be a great way to setup shop in new locales while complete novices have tried their hands at something they never even considered due to lack of access to a real piano. It’s a fantastic idea that should not just be perpetuated in cities large and small around the world but should absolutely be brought back year after year or perhaps even be considered for permanent installation during the summer months. At a time when the arts and, more specifically, music programs are being slashed all around us, it’s a brilliant way to keep music alive amongst the populous.

Hopefully you got to see some of this in action around NYC. If not, there are numerous videos that share the experience quite well. Below are a few but be sure to visit the artist’s website to see others, as well as some really cool photos and learn a lot more about this incredible project.

Visit StreetPianos.com to learn more. Click HERE to see the locations where the each piano was placed in NYC. Here is the LINK to learn about the origins of the project and how it is received by the public. Also, to read more about the piece, check out this New York Times article.

References:

More info on Play Me, I’m Your

More info on Luke Jerram

More info on Sing For Hope

YouTube Search Results






The In Sound From Way Out!

19 05 2010

When you think of electronic music, the 1960’s doesn’t exactly come to mind. Sure, the minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich were doing things that would later influence electronic music. And, yes, guys like John Cage were playing around with experimental music, taking “found sound” and injecting it into their live performances, but what we would now think of as electronic music was just in it’s infancy at that point. It was such a new concept that few had even explored the potential. For starters, the main contributor to the genre, the synthesizer had yet to be invented… so one would think. While modern synthesizers, like the Fairlight CMI and Synthclavier, did not appear for some time, there were a few predecessors that started it all, and with that were some very innovative artists that would pioneer a whole new breed of music.

Here are a few videos of one of the earliest electronic keyboards, the Ondioline. It is a vacuum tube instrument that was invented in 1941 (!). This is one of the earliest pioneers to use such technology, Jean-Jaques Perrey, doing a demonstration of how this instrument would change the way we think of music. The first is from 1960, the second is from 1966… both are from an old show called I’ve Got A Secret.

Perrey was on the absolute forefront of such music technologies.  He traveled Europe showing what the Ondioline could do, then moved to NY where he helped develop the idea of making rhythmic loops out of cut and spliced tape. This technique would later be know as tape looping. Perrey would soon befriend Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. The Moog was an instrument that truly changed the musical landscape. In the 70’s it rose to great prominence with help from artists like Stevie Wonder, Jan Hammer, Kieth Emerson and Bernie Worrell. Soon after meeting Bob Moog, Perrey became one of the first Moog synth musicians, creating “far out electronic entertainment”. In 1965 Perrey met Gershon Kingsley, a former colleague of John Cage. Together, using Ondioline and Perrey’s loops, they created two albums for Vanguard — The In Sound From Way Out (1966) and Kaleidoscopic Vibrations (1967). Both were groundbreaking pieces of work that still influence today’s musicians, like the Beastie Boys for instance, who borrowed the title and cover art from the former.

Below is “One Note Samba” (a cover) from Kaleidoscope Vibrations

This is “The Little Man From Mars” from The In Sound From Way Out

Gershon Kingsley and Jean-Jaques Perrey were perfect collaborators however, they soon parted ways to work on their own music. Interestingly, they both created some extraordinary work as individuals. Some of which still lives on today. For instance, Kingsley’s 1969 hit “Popcorn” was a huge success that is often covered by contemporary musician, both young and old. This all instrumental pop-centric tune was created after listening to the rhythm of a popcorn maker. The song was featured on his 1969 release Music To Moog By. Kingsley became famous for being the first musician ever to play the Moog in live performances. It should be no surprise that the Moog was his writing tool for this worldwide hit and would later define his style.

Here is the original video produced for “Popcorn”. You will absolutely recognize this one as it has been covered about 30 times and was featured in countless films, TV shows and commercials from decades past. It’s amazing to think this was written and recorded the same year as Woodstock.

Perrey also had great success as a solo musician. His song “EVA”, from 1970, is much like “Popcorn” in that it has been covered for decades. When you listen to it now, it sounds like something modern day musicians are doing in their home studios. It’s wild to think that the genre really hasn’t come that far in 50 years. Immediately below is the audio from the original EVA recording and just after that is a live performance of the song recorded in 2005. The live version is great to watch but has about 2 minutes of introduction. It’s crazy to see this old man up there playing the original vintage instruments on which he composed this masterpiece… and yet the music sounds like something written 5 years ago.

The thing to note about all of this music is that it was often a painstaking process to create. It was the advent of computer technology that has made it more accessible to modern players. Perhaps that is why the style has taken off. As it becomes easier and easier to create, more young artists try their hand at what was considered relatively impossible a half century ago. That combined with modern pop sensibilities means that electronic music is now one of the most popular forms world wide.

References:

More info on Perrey & Kingsley

More info on Jean-Jaques Perrey

More info on Gershon Kingsley

More info on the Ondioline

More info on Robert Moog

More info on the Moog Synth

More info on The In Sound From Way Out

More info on Kaleidoscopic Vibrations

More info on “Popcorn” and it’s covers





Electric Junkyard Gamelan

12 05 2010

This Brooklyn based homemade musical menagerie is the brain child of composer Terry Dame. The name is very much descriptive of what this group strives for artistically. Terry and company are part of a growing movement of musicians who only utilize self-made, found and/or modified objects from ordinary life in their performances. The premise is that not only are you reusing, reducing and recycling but each instrument is absolutely unique. Which means that the player must learn to play on that specific instrument because the particular item may not be “tuned” perfectly or it may require some special technique to get a certain timbre out of it. The other element of their name that is very fitting is the fact that they specialize in Gamelan music from Indonesia. It’s an interesting style that utilizes overtones from resonating notes to create ambient harmonies. While it’s not the poppiest of music, these guys are not to be missed. Between their stage presence and the trance like effect of the Gamelan music, it’s a hell of a performance. This clip below will help you learn a bit more about who they are and what they do. Plus, it delves deeper into what the instruments are made of, how difficult they are to master and the resulting music that’s part chaos, part composition and 100% cool.

If you haven’t had enough, here’s some nice live footage of the band in action. It’s an interesting sound and the performance is truly an unique experience.

References:

Electric Junkyard Gamelan live on NPR

Learn more about Electric Junkyard Gamelan

Visit Electric Junkyard Gamelan on MySpace

More info on Handmade music

More info on Gamelan music





The Deep End: Huge Horn or Puny Player?

4 05 2010

Recently, I have been curiously looking into some very enormous and, consequently, bizarre instruments. Although I have never explicitly stated so on GG, if you read between the lines you may have inferred that The GG is in fact a bass player. So, as someone who fancies the low end I wanted to research some of the other instruments capable of producing that bottom register. You would be surprised (and delighted) by how many weird and unusual instruments are designed to produce such incredibly low tones… I’m talking REALLY deep.

Instruments are often referred to in terms of their pitch or register. Think of an orchestra or chorus: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, etc. Well, these monstrosities are so low that they have their own deep end designations, known as: contrabass & subcontrabass. It’s pretty straightforward, contrabass being one octave lower than bass. While subcontrabass takes it a notch further, tuned an octave lower than contrabass. The best part about these crazy instruments is that they are all huge in order to naturally be able to produce tones so low. Ok, ok… the best part may actually be their ability to create fart-like sounds that makes the kid in all of us chuckle.

The first and perhaps my favorite is the contrabass saxophone…

This is a duet for contrabassoon, the bassoon’s larger cousin. These dudes are great…

This is the lovable contrabass tuba. Perfect for fight songs…

Here is another duet. This time, the contrabass trombone. There is actually a subcontrabass trombone that requires a double slide but videos are scarce and, frankly, not nearly as enjoyable as this one.

Now we’re really going low. This one is the subcontrabass flute. It may be the strangest because the flute family is usually reserved for the high voices in most ensembles. Needless to say, this is very rare (and odd).

This is a subcontrabass recorder. Yes, like the recorder you used to play “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on when you were in kindergarten… except this in so big it requires 20’of headroom to play.

Believe it or not there are actually a few more… like this  HUGE subcontrabass tuba. But, I think I’ll leave it there.  As fart-tastic as it is, you clearly get the point.

Now, there are legitimately large instruments that need to be designed that way in order to obtain their low range and than there are just big f’ing instruments. You know what I’m talking about, the ridiculous, obnoxious things made by guys who either really love the spectacle of it or just want to break some sort of Guinness record. Either way it’s a circus act, clowns and all. Here are just a few…

Ok. So, there are always exceptions. This is actually pretty cool. It’s a giant science project that enables humans to go inside a huge made-to-scale guitar to see and hear how the acoustics work.

Ref:

CNN story on rare historic contrabass sax

Indie piece on rare historic contrabass trombone





Fairlight CMI

18 01 2010

Since I’m on the topic of Herbie Hancock, check out this video of Herbie and Quincy Jones playing around with a really old synthesizer, the Fairlight CMI. I first saw Herbie messing around with this thing on Sesame Street… waaaay back when. All I could remember was that it was really weird for children’s programming. I just found that same video on the web and upon watching again I pretty much came to the same conclusion (20+ years later). The CMI first came out in 1979 for like $25,000 and it basically became the sound of the 80’s. Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder bought the first 2 that rolled off the production line… which makes sense. You’ve definitely heard it before in many, many 80’s classics.

Note the light pen/stylus thingy. For some strange reason, it kind of reminds me of that weird pen, Mortimer Ichabod,  from Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages (Nickelodeon circa 1990-ish) . I don’t know, it must be the overt digitalness and/or the fact that it’s seems totally ridiculous because it’s supposed to be so ahead of it’s time and yet seems so dated. Little did they know the stylus would become completely obsolete in the new millennium. Look at us… just using our fingers to interact with these crazy gadgets.

There are numerous videos of this thing for reference, like Keith Emerson of ELP on The Today Show – 1983. This is actually a REALLY good one. It’s crazy to see their mentality about digital music in the early 80’s. You need to hear some of the questions this reporter poses. It borders on fear mongering. In 2010 it really sounds absurd.

There are also many more just like or very similar to that one but, I certainly  don’t want to post them all here so follow the links below back to YouTube if you are curious. I’m even linking Mortimer the Pen too. How could I not?

Other Video Links:

Mortimer Ichabod (Picture Pages Pen)

Fairlight Factory Tour -1984

Peter Gabriel shows you how he made some of his worst music on the CMI

Really odd UK news show, This Week, features the CMI. Old + odd… usually a recipe for a pretty decent video.

Additional Background References:

Wiki – Fairlight CMI

GH Services








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