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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