A half century after his tragic death, Jimi Hendrix remains cemented in place near the top of anyone’s list of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. So why would anyone decided to pay tribute to the iconic axe-man on a full album without a single guitar?
The virtuosic bassist and world-renowned producer Brian Bromberg tackled that audacious challenge on his 2012 album Bromberg Plays Hendrix, a blistering homage on which Bromberg’s fretless and piccolo basses stand in for the original’s fleet fretwork. Joined only by the in-demand drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Bromberg summoned a whirlwind of sound from his four- and five-string arsenal to craft a smoldering set of classics in keeping with Hendrix’s exploratory spirit.
"I always try and have original music on every CD I do. I recorded a tribute CD to the legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, that had a lot of original music on it done "In The Spirit of Jobim” (that is also the title of the CD.) Bromberg Plays Hendrix is no different as I wanted to record an original song for the project. I wrote the song “Jimi” in the spirit of Jimmy’s great song “Voodoo Child” which did not make it on the CD due to circumstances beyond my control. So, my song Jimi kind of fills the musical gap left by not including "Voodoo Child" on the project, as the feel and vibe of the song is different then all of the others on the CD. It rocks hard but also has a bit of straight up funk as well. Jimi is just a powerful fun in your face track with some insane drumming from the amazing Vinnie Colaiuta. Crank it up!" Says Bromberg.
Watch Bromberg perform "Jimi" from the album:
A decade after its recording, the album remains dizzying in the virtuosity and visceral power of its musicianship and passion. Brian was happy with the original version of the CD, but after a big studio upgrade and new equipment he wanted to jump back into the project and do a remix/remaster to make the project sound as good as he felt it deserved to sound. On September 18, 2020 a newly remixed and remastered edition will be released digitally by Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, with vibrant sound and an appropriately psychedelic palette that vastly improves the, well, experience. The reissue also includes a new bonus track, Bromberg’s original song “Jimi,” a sonic portrait of the hard-rocking wizard.
“I knew I could make the record sound better,” Bromberg enthuses. “And I wanted the record to sound better because I really love it; I’m very proud of it.”
The remixing and remastering were accomplished in Bromberg’s state-of-the-art home studio in Southern California, in partnership with his longtime engineer Tom McCauley, with whom he’s worked throughout much of his four-decade career. “There are a lot of great engineers out there, but Tom has got incredible ears and instincts,” Bromberg says. “He’s also a musician, so he doesn't just hear things technically, he hears things musically. We complement each other, and we’re both control freaks in that good enough is never good enough.”
The re-release of Bromberg Plays Hendrix commemorates the 50th anniversary of Hendrix’s passing in September 1970. (It also coincides with the release of Bromberg’s new holiday album, Celebrate Me Home: The Holiday Sessions, recorded with an all-star cast completely in quarantine.)
That somber occasion remains indelibly etched in Bromberg’s mind. “I was ten years old when he died,” the bassist recalls, “and I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, looking at his picture and crying. Jimi Hendrix was a larger than life figure to me. There was something about him that really intrigued me, even as a young child.”
Despite that early influence, Bromberg had never considered paying tribute to Hendrix in an explicit way. The suggestion came from two different record executive friends – one in New York, the other in Japan – who each broached the subject on separate occasions, a coincidence which Bromberg decided he’d best heed. “Why would two different record company execs from two different cultures, 10,000 miles and two years apart, say the same thing?” he mused. “I knew I had to take this seriously.”
What he quickly realized, above all else, was that he had no intention of setting out to sound like Jimi Hendrix. Bromberg is a bassist, not a guitarist – one of the contemporary music world’s most acclaimed bassists, of course, but a bassist all the same. And a major component of Hendrix’s captivating magic is his singular voice, a storytelling instrument more than a virtuosic one, which is a daunting challenge to translate into an instrumental setting.
“There was so much depth in his delivery of a song,” Bromberg explains. “That’s almost insurmountable because of the power of who he was as a human being coming through in his spoken words. You can’t replicate that. So, I delved deeply into Hendrix’s music and tried to find a place for me to be able to play it without trying to sound like him. I made it my record and did it my way, with a completely different energy.”
Bromberg’s secret weapon and only collaborator for the session was the legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, whose staggering list of collaborators includes Herbie Hancock, Sting, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand and myriad others. “He’s a genius,” Bromberg states definitively. “There’s nothing he can’t do.”
Colaiuta’s rock-solid rhythms laid the foundation for Bromberg’s virtuosic turn on an array of basses, which supply every other sound on the album. In place of Hendrix’s lead guitars and vocal melodies, Bromberg wields his fluid and supple fretless bass. “The fretless bass is a lot more emotional, more human,” he says. “It got me one percent closer to the way that Hendrix delivered a melody. When you play fretless you can’t screw up; it’s all you, and you have to be musical about it. It was a monumental challenge to do the record, and it was insanely fun.”
That intrepid and celebratory attitude, paired with the bassist’s scorching musicianship, make Bromberg Plays Hendrix a fitting and invigorating tribute to the legendary guitarist. In this new addition, that spirit becomes all the more vital.
For more information visit: BrianBromberg.net