Kaveh Rastegar Parlays His Versatility Into An Auspicious Solo Debut

Is there a more versatile, all-in bass player than Kaveh Rastegar? Since arriving in Los Angeles in 1999, Rastegar has defined the modern session bassist: He’s a doubler who has provided bottom on recordings ranging from Meshell Ndegeocello and Shania Twian to Beck and Charlie Puth, as well as film soundtracks and jingles (including an appearance in La La Land); he’s a composer who has written for Ndegeocello, Bruno Mars, Ciara, and Cee Lo Green; and he’s a producer for Sabrina Claudio, Dawn Richard, and De La Soul (for whom he also wrote and played bass). Then there’s his recently concluded, 18-year run wearing all of those hats in the forefront jazz unit Kneebody, and his longtime role in John Legend’s band. With that much musical impact on other people’s projects, it was only a matter of time before Kaveh released his solo debut. Light of Love is a sonic tapestry full of fervent grooves, abundant vocal hooks, and ingenious bass orchestrations via his ’64 Fender Precision and acoustic bass. Key to the 12-track disc’s uber-contemporary sound is the way it was written and produced, through free-form jam sessions, post-jam collaborations, and open-minded experimentation. Co-conspirators include vocalists Becca Stevens, Gaby Moreno, and David Garza, drummers Chris Dave and Scott Seiver, guitarists Chris Bruce and Josh Lopez, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Allows Kaveh, “This record was certainly overdue. The fun was in drawing from all of my musical worlds.”

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Born in Montreal on November 17, 1975, Rastegar moved with his family to Denver when he was two, remaining there until age 21. The years in between were filled with music at the urging of his arts-minded parents and his stepdad, a prog-rock composer/guitarist. Saxophone came first, at age nine in elementary school, and then his tastes turned to punk rock and reggae. Kaveh recalls, “Suicidal Tendencies, Sly & Robbie, the Cure — the bass in those bands was such a driving instrument, and the ferocious, wonderful sound when the rest of the band dropped out drew me to bass. A key was Simon Gallup’s part on The Cure’s ‘Fascination Street’ [Disintegration, 1989, Elektra].” First picking out bass lines on his stepdad’s acoustic guitar, Rastegar got a Fender Musicmaster Bass at age 13 from his mom, and he was off. While in high school he saw the Psychodelic Zombiez, a local funk–punk horn band, and he fell into their universe, meeting their vocalist and then Lopez and Seiver, and gigging in all of the group’s satellite bands. Spending time on a Fender P-Bass Lyte, a Peavey TL-5, a Fender Jazz Bass 5-string, and Lopez’s dad’s acoustic bass, Rastegar played in reggae and salsa bands, and he subbed for jazz acoustic bassist Artie Moore. Along the way he took in the additional influences of Flea, Les Claypool, Jaco Pastorious, Pino Palladino, and Bernard Edwards.

Gradually, members of the Zombiez moved to Los Angeles, creating a pipeline for the Colorado crew of players. Rastegar’s next move, however, was to attend the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley for two years until another Denver pal, trumpeter Shane Endsley, convinced him to join him at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Kaveh successfully auditioned on acoustic bass and, along with Endsley, met saxophonist Ben Wendel and keyboardist Adam Benjamin, who would all go on to form Kneebody in Los Angeles (with drummer Nate Wood) in 2001. Regarding his original May ’99 move to the City of Angels, Rastegar recalls, “It was mysterious, colorful, warm, and incredible. All of my Denver buddies were in touring bands for artists like Macy Gray and Everlast. I did local gigs and became a bass instructor at Flea’s Silverlake Conservatory of Music.” Over time, he made inroads across the musical spectrum, leading to the alliances that help make Light of Lovethe kaleidoscopic, kinetic debut it is.

John Legend England Rehearsal

How did Light of Love come together?

My intention at the start was for it to be my bass album, but it ended up bringing together all of my worlds: bass playing, songwriting, producing, and my love of collaboration — I also played guitar and sang. The genesis was getting together with my old friend Scott Seiver [Tenacious D] and improvising grooves and forms that I could later write over. I did additional jam-style sessions with buddies like Josh Lopez, Chris Bruce, Brandon Coleman, and Chris Dave. Then I went through all of the sessions and picked out some good spots, and I began writing the songs with collaborators. My buddy Pete Min, who engineered and mixed the record, is a key collaborator, as well. I bounced all of my ideas off him. I was inspired by J Dilla’s Donuts [2006, Stones Throw], where it’s just one insane idea after another. Compositionally, the songs are just moods that inspired me, like a mixtape. My work on De La Soul’s And the Anonymous Nobodywas like that.

There are a lot of diverse bass colors, starting with “Cuento Ilogico” and “Cat Woman.”

“Cat People” is my ’64 Precision and my acoustic bass going through a Fender Twin Reverb, with the reverb on. The song is a nod to Giorgio Moroder’s score for the 1982 film Cat People, with its mysterious, elegant, synth-laden melodies. “Cuento Ilogico” has my arco acoustic bass choir at the top and my P-Bass later. I wrote that with the vocalist, Gaby Moreno. And I wrote “A Little Too Late,” which also has arco acoustic bass, with [vocalist] Becca Stevens in my studio. Those are the only two songs not written from previous jams.

“Tom Tom?” and “Lavender” sound like they have keyboard bass lines.

“Tom Tom?” was from the end of a jam I did with guitarist Jeff Parker. I’m playing both a [Roland] Juno and P-Bass bass line to the groove, which is in 5/4. I brought that to Chris Dave, and he created something new against it. “Lavender” is actually my P-Bass and a Boss OC-2 Octave pedal with the oct 1 knob turned all the way up and everything else turned all the way down. That song came from the same jam as “Accidents Waiting to Happen” — you can hear the same style and tempo. I put the track together and sent it to Dawn Richard, a New Orleans artist who was in Danity Kane, and she wrote the lyrics and added her vocal.

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What’s the feel and stylistic influence of “As Long As You Love Me”?

That’s inspired by Malian singer/guitarist Ali Farka Touré — that African-music-meets-the-blues style — and the feel is 7/4. I play baritone and standard guitar, and acoustic bass. The vocals and lyrics are by an artist known as Who Is Wednesday. It started from a jam with Scott and Josh, and then I wrote the B section, which has the two scales fused together [Mixolydian b6 ascending, BLydian descending].

You step out for a solo on “Long March,” which features Nicholas Payton.

That’s built on a bass line I’d had for a long time, which is a bit of a tongue-twister but has a funky side, too. I taught it to Josh and Scott, and they made it their own. Then I sent it to Nicholas, who I had met through Kneebody, and he wrote and overdubbed the melody and the horn parts, all of which are brilliant. The changes are challenging to blow over [A–C–Eb–Ab–G–F]; I just went for it stream-of-conscious, keeping the groove in mind.

You end the record with a chord melody version of “Luz Do Sol.”

That’s one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite records [Caetano Veloso, 1986, Nonesuch], by Brazilian composer–vocalist–guitarist Caetano Veloso. About ten years ago, I got into creating solo bass arrangements of songs I love as part of my practice routine. It’s a great learning experience, because you find all of these challenges and limitations on the instrument that you have to solve, and more often than not, you discover that the simplest way to get the melody across is the best way. Here, I added an outro, with Jeff Babko on keyboards, Chris Dave on percussion, and three overdubbed basses in conversation.

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Having recently left Kneebody after 18 years, how do you reflect on the band?

To have been a founding member of Kneebody is one of the true honors of my life. I learned quickly to get over the hang-up of being around incredible musicians who were levels above me, so I could focus on all the ways they challenged me. Along the way, we became best friends and brothers who created records in a musical lab. We would all bring in tunes, workshop them on gigs, and find our way to the finish line. It’s a leaderless band, which could get a little crazy at decision time, but it couldn’t be any other way. And to be able to play with a hero of mine in Nate Wood — an equally amazing drummer and bassist, who hears everything— raised my playing and musical awareness tenfold. I’ll continue to watch and support them, knowing they’re in super-capable hands with Nate handling both bass and drums.

How would you describe your role with John Legend’s band?

I feel very blessed to play in John’s band because he’s one of the great artists of our time. He’s rooted in R&B, soul, and pop, so bass-wise I draw from masters like James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, and Willie Weeks — but he also comes from hip-hop, so I’m drawing from players like Pino Palladino, too. He’s open to all of the cool things you can do as a bass player, whether it’s filling the spaces on a soul tune or creating a huge, sub-bass sound with a pedal on a hip-hop tune. Basically I play what’s on the recordings, but there’s plenty of leeway. John feeds off the band’s energy, and ideas develop live. It doesn’t always mean I play busier; maybe I’ll play a different bass note or we’ll throw in a chord substitution. Overall, I feel like my role is to provide whatever the bass needs to do for the music, and that almost always means being the foundation.

What’s coming up in 2019?

I’m about to release two follow-up singles to Light of Love. One is from the same jam session as “Roll Call,” called “Don’t Turn Back,” featuring vocalist Dorian Holley, and the other is a remix of “Luz Do Sol” by electronica producer Daedelus. This summer I’ll release my singer–songwriter record, which has a Plastic Ono Band vibe and features keyboardist Larry Goldings, drummers Matt Chamberlain and Jay Bellerose, and guitarist Tim Young. I’m producing some songs for vocalist Sabrina Claudio and continuing to tour with John [Legend]. I also have some projects coming up that I can’t speak about yet that will be especially interesting to bass players. Overall, I feel very fortunate to be involved in so many different musical camps, with each one providing a unique creative outlet.

LIGHT OF LOVE FINAL COVER

LISTEN

Light of Love, 2018, Rope-A-Dope; Sabrina Claudio, No Rain, No Flowers, 2018, Atlantic; Kneebody, Anti-Hero, 2017, Motéma Music; Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism, 2018, Naïve; De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody, 2016, A.O.I.

EQUIP

Basses 1964 Fender Precision Bass; 100-year-old ¾ German acoustic bass (with Pirastro Evah Pirazzi strings, Kolstein German-style bow, and Gage Realist pickup); 2019 Fender American Professional Precision Bass (with flatwounds); 2008 Hofner Beatle Bass; 1967 Gibson EB-2; 1968 Gibson EB-0; 1977 Music Man Stingray; 1972 Fender Jazz Bass

Strings GHS Boomers, GHS Bass Precision Flats (both .045–.105)

Amps Aguilar AG 500 or DB 751 head, DB 410 & SL 112 cabinets

Effects Aguilar Octamizer, Boss OC-2 Octave, Wesco Pedals Grease Juicer, Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, Line 6 DL4, Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, MXR Bass DI+, Rat Turbo RAT

Other Tonecraft 363 Tube Direct Box, BAE DMP 1073 Desktop mic pre