Bass Magazine digs into the latest releases of albums, books, and videos involving all things bass
Legacy [BASSic Black Entertainment]
Inspired by personal losses in the pandemic and cut in 30 days, Adam Blackstone’s stellar solo debut, Legacy, is at once unexpected and foreseeable: Unexpected in that, for the bulk of the 14-track effort, Blackstone mans his upright bass to anchor lush big-band arrangements of both standards and originals. Foreseeable given how the range of artists and musical styles he assembles here reflects his career as the premier musical director of the new millennium. Opening fittingly “in the church” with the words of Kirk Franklin on “New Day,” the colors of Blackstone’s upright and nimble horn ensemble are introduced. That leads to such swingin’ tracks as Leslie Odom Jr.’s take on “Fly Me to the Moon”; the Philly/Camden, New Jersey, tribute “Back on the Strip,” featuring Queen Latifah’s vocals; “Biggest, Greatest Thing,” boasting the gospel duo Mary Mary and organist Cory Henry; and Jazzmine Sullivan’s sultry interpretation of “’Round Midnight.” Other upright and horn-infused ballads include the Chadwick Boseman tribute cover of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” by his widow Simone; the sublime “Vulnerable,” with Jean Baylor and husband/drummer Marcus Baylor; and the sweeping “My Winter,” with vocalist Laurin Talese and keyboard ace Robert Glasper.
On the bass guitar side, “Lost” is a heady collaboration with jazz guitar giant John Scofield rife with expressive 5-string fills and step-outs — as is “Amongst the Stars,” featuring Adam Blackstone Jr.’s dreamy thoughts on the night sky. The title track, shouted out by Da’ T.R.U.T.H and Jill Scott, pivots on old-school root-5th-octave jamming, with a brief, swung bridge on upright. Best of all is Blackstone’s cascading 5-string, backed by his group The Origin Band, on the swung funkfest “True Praise.” Blackstone as a solo artist? Believe! –Chris Jisi
Songs for While I’m Away [Mercury Studios]
The Boys are Back in Town (Live at the Sydney Opera House, October 1978), CD, DVD & Blu-Ray [Mercury Studios]
In Songs for While I’m Away, ’80s chart-topper Huey Lewis proclaims that Phil Lynott was the best hard-rock entertainer he’d ever seen—a reminder of just how underrated Thin Lizzy was (and perhaps still is) within the rock pantheon. Despite driving hooks, twin lead guitars, lyrics saturated in working-class lore, and the charismatic presence of Lynott, Thin Lizzy— although undeniably influential — never seemed to capture the mainstream recognition they deserved.
Songs for While I’m Away chronicles the life and music of Lynott, using archival footage, interview snippets from the man himself, and music from both the Thin Lizzy and Lynott solo catalog. Notable interviews with Lewis, U2’s Adam Clayton, Metallica frontman James Hetfield, and former Thin Lizzy band members—including guitarists Midge Ure and Scott Gorham and keyboardist Darren Wharton—as well as Phil’s wife Caroline Taraskevics and daughters Sarah Lynott and Cathleen Lynott, reveal an all-encompassing look at Phil, from his upbringing in the 1950s as a Black boy in blue-collar Dublin, and the racism he had to endure, to his rise to fame. One could argue about the lack of interviews with essential Lynott collaborators and former Thin Lizzy guitarists like Brian Robertson, Snowy White, and John Sykes, but as is the case with any documentary, there is only so much time to tell someone’s story. Despite these missing persons of interest, director Emer Reynolds’ documentary is engaging and holds together very well. Exploring Lynott’s history and rippling impact on music, Reynolds examines him as a singer, songwriter, poet, father, and ultimately, cultural icon.
Complementing the film is The Boys Are Back in Town Live at the Sydney Opera House October 1978. Previously released on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD, this version presents the Thin Lizzy show in the highest quality that has been made available, with restored video and remixed audio from multi-tracks, as well as five additional songs from this set that have never been officially released. This performance showcases the electricity of these original rock & roll rebels — Lynott, Scott Gorham (guitar/background vocals), Gary Moore (guitar/background vocals), and Mark Nauseef (drums) — delivering searing versions of their celebrated anthems, such as “Jailbreak,” “The Boys Are Back in Town,” “Bad Reputation,” and “Me and the Boys.” Lynott sure crafted memorable and indelible bass lines throughout Thin Lizzy’s career, and on the anthems in particular, his use of walking lines, passing tones, approach notes, and other moves are clearly induced by his vocal melodies — but his role as singer–songwriter often overshadowed just how astute a bassist he was. –Freddy Villano
The Boy Named If [Capitol/EMI]
On Elvis Costello’s profound latest effort with The Imposters, Davey Faragher’s role as a key counter-voice to Costello’s vocals is stylishly heightened due to his being able to record his parts at home. He relates, “It was nice to be sent the songs, maybe in a rough state, but with the forms intact — usually with the drum track recorded over Elvis’ vocal and sometimes scratch guitars. Recording one song at a time and by myself, I had the luxury of experimenting with parts and sounds.” The results are instantly apparent on the title track, with Faragher developing his own call-and-answer part in the verses and then soaring high for a melodic counter-line in the bridge. Locked tight, as always, with drummer Pete Thomas, he manages to infuse his steady and broken eighth-notes on “Penelope,” “Mistook Me for a Friend,” and “The Difference” with the flavors of Motown, reggae, and punk rock — the first featuring fun fills in the fade, the last accented with slapped sections and double-stops.
Elsewhere, Faragher deftly pivots between a half-time and double-time 6/8 feel on “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” elevates the laid-back rocker “My Most Beautiful Mistake” with funky 16ths, develops the quasi-Bo Diddley pulse on “The Death of Magic Thinking,” and wields an upright (which he started playing in 2020) for the swing-in-two “Trick Out the Truth.” Throughout, he matches song to bass tone splendidly, rotating among his ’58 Fender Precision, ’63 Hofner Club Bass, ’63 Gibson SG Bass, and DeTemple P-55 — all through his Tonecraft Audio 363 Tube DI and sometimes his Vox V125 amp, overdriven. Pedals ranged from his ’70s Mu-Tron Envelope Filter to fuzz added by producer Sebastian Krys after the fact. As Elvis Costello told Bass Magazine in Issue 5, “Davey can invent with the best of them.” –Chris Jisi
Unleash Your Funk Bass Potential With The Brand New Heavies [musicgurus.com, 2022]
On Unleash Your Funk Bass Potential With The Brand New Heavies, acid-jazz legend Andrew Levy shares the creative techniques and bass playing style that helped The Brand New Heavies become one of the most successful U.K. funk groups of all time. Along with guitarist Simon Bartholomew, Levy is a co-founding member and co-songwriter of the band, which rose to prominence in the early ’90s with successful singles such as “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Sometimes,” and “Dream on Dreamer.” The Brand New Heavies helped to define the acid jazz genre and have performed on countless high-profile shows and bills, including Top of the Pops, supporting James Brown at Wembley Stadium, and much more.
In his first online bass guitar course, Levy teaches the song structures, chord choices, and tension-building techniques behind some of The Brand New Heavies’ biggest hits. He also discusses his creative approach to making music and demonstrates how he expresses himself through riffs and rhythm. Throughout the 13-part course, Levy breaks down his signature bass lines to demonstrate how he creates ideas and how he creates his funk sound — incorporating right- and left-hand placement and technique, as well as tone-control settings on his basses. He explains how he approaches writing a song, from starting with a drum beat to adding all the instruments. He also walks you through how to work with other players to create the final product. The course comes complete with interactive sheet music and backing tracks for easy practice.
Levy is a self-taught musician, so don’t expect a lot of theory or technical jargon. His approach is much more organic and visceral, based on the instincts he cultivated as a session player early in his professional career — some of which you’ll also learn about, including a session with Jamiroquai — and the influences of his formative years. Levy grew up in London, the son of Jamaican parents, listening to an eclectic mix of music that runs the gamut from reggae to British pop radio to classical and jazz. As for specific artists, he says his biggest musical influences include James Brown, Vicky Anderson, Level 42, Shalamar, Chic, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, George Benson, Marvin Gaye, Thin Lizzy, Miles Davis, Phyllis Hyman, and Earth, Wind and Fire.
One of the most insightful aspects is seeing just how strong Levy’s right-hand attack is, and understanding how that has been such an integral element of The Brand New Heavies’ sound. So, if you’re interested in absorbing Levy’s wisdom about funk-style bass playing, Unleash Your Funk Bass Potential With The Brand New Heavies is your chance to learn from a bona-fide icon of the low end. –Freddy Villano
Athens-based bassist–composer Yiorgos Fakanas is perhaps best known on these shores for his collaboration with Anthony Jackson on the pair’s propulsive 2009 record Interspirit. On his ambitious latest effort, Fakanas finally lays to wax an historic, six-part jazz suite he was commissioned to write in 1993 that marked the first pairing of a full string orchestra and a jazz octet by a composer in Greece — “a continuous conversation between the two,” as he describes it. In addition, the revisit inspired eight new pieces that stand on their own. All 14 tracks are interpreted by Fakanas’ usual assemblage of local and international jazz all-stars, here including drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, as well as keyboardist Steve Weinghart and tenor saxophonist Bobby Franceschini (both frequent sidemen with Victor Wooten). The majestic opener, “Aromi,” finds Fakanas handling melodies and taking a soaring solo on his Fodera 4-string. He then underpins “Power of Will” with his hard-swinging walking lines.
The title-track suite begins soon after, launched by Yiorgos issuing 16ths with Jaco-like intensity on “Part 1” and “Part 3,” building “Part 2” around his compelling chordal part, and adding an Afro-Cuban edge to “Part 5” and “Part 6.” Post-suite highpoints include the mythic, bass-led ballad “Joyful Song” and fertile Fakanas solos on the multi-hued “Garden,” the cinematic “Interlude,” and the surging “Valentine Mood.” The global view? Fakanas remains a major composer who also happens to be a badass on bass guitar. –Chris Jisi
Lips Turn Blue
Lips Turn Blue [MIG Music]
Mike Mullane has been a first-call journeyman bassist in rock, funk, Americana, and R&B since the 1980s for many bands in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Toronto. He’s played with Lou Gramm (Foreigner), members of Aerosmith (Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton), Steve Fekete (Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, America) and Stuart Kimball (Bob Dylan). His latest project, Lips Turn Blue (LTB), teams him with late Talas singer and Buffalo legend Phil Naro and guitarist Don Mancuso of Black Sheep fame.
LTB’s eponymous debut is an intelligent and raucous slab of classic-sounding rock & roll, with Mullane’s rock-solid bass-playing philosophy of “play the song, not your instrument” at the heart of the band’s music. He explains, “You’re there to support the groove, the harmony, and the melody, and doing that can take many forms.” For example, on the song “Crazy in Love,” he’s basically playing whole-notes. “It works — it’s what the song needed,” he attests. LTB also covers the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog,” where he gets to throw down on Paul McCartney’s classic lines.
Mullane’s bass tracks were all recorded direct, no amp: Bass to Tech 21 VT Bass Deluxe to Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to Logic Pro X. “The VT Bass Deluxe is my go-to preamp when recording,” he says. “I’ve had engineers say, “Don’t forget to bring that pedal.” Mullane also reveals that his tone changed from song to song, citing the fact that he doesn’t have what he would consider a signature sound. “I used a few different basses, changing it up depending on what I thought the song called for.” Instruments included an ’81 Fender Precision Bass, Carvin/Kiesel Brian Bromberg Signature 5-string, mid-’80s made-in-Japan Fender Jazz Bass Special, and a 2000 Spector NS-4CR — all of which use active pickups and preamps, except for the passive Fender Jazz. Mullane would record his bass tracks and then send it to producer Steve Major with no effects or processing. “On a few songs I’d send a couple versions with the clean sound and suggested processing, like chorus or dirt. We’d then talk about the final bass sound as it related to the final mix.”
For an album that has such a cohesive vibe, it’s interesting to note that LTB was written and recorded entirely remotely by sending tracks back and forth. “I’m used to writing collaboratively in the same room, so this was all new to me,” he says. Generally, the writers Naro and Mancuso would collaborate and send a basic outline to Major, who would then send out a basic mix. “Then we’d all put our tracks down and send it back to him,” explains Mullane. “It would then go through reviews, rewrites, and recuts. There were a bunch of variations, but that was the basic process.”
You’ll likely catch a whiff of classic Foreigner from LTB, which makes sense as Mancuso was the guitarist for Lou Gramm in Black Sheep. So, if you’re into radio-friendly, AOR-style classic rock dripping with melody —and featuring an insanely underrated singer in Naro — give LTB a spin. –Freddy Villano
Long Distance Calling
Eraser [earMUSIC, 2022]
Cinematic in scope, and most certainly a career highlight, Eraser brings Long Distance Calling’s (LDC) particular brand of instrumental music to a new generation of progressive rock fans. For 16 years now, the Germany-based four-piece has been delivering ethereal yet colossal music that manages to somehow bridge the gap between Floyd and Maiden. Yielding eight instrumental rock/progressive metal full-length records to date, LDC’s last, and seventh, studio album, How Do We Want To Live? (2020), charted at #7 in Germany, and Eraser stands to build off that milestone.
A direct and heartfelt tribute to the gradual erosion of nature at the hands of mankind, Eraser is dedicated to the world’s endangered species, with each song representing one particular creature facing extinction. From the thunderous wake-up call of the opener “Blades” (dedicated to the rhinoceros) to the epic, haunting bombast of “500 Years” (dedicated to the Greenland shark), to the sizzling intricacy of “Blood Honey” (the bee), to the sonorous, slow-motion devastation of the closing title track (wherein humanity itself is the focus), LDC has conjured a wildly evocative and diverse collection of instrumental songs.
LDC has a knack for blending the atmospheric elements of Pink Floyd with more Iron Maiden-esque power metal without ever sounding forced. In their deft hands, and through the lens of their own creativity, they seamlessly meld these elements into tight-knit and cohesive sounding music that tickles the imagination. Holding it together is bassist Jan Hoffman, whose playing on Erasercrackles with energy, and is as nuanced and articulate as one might expect from someone like John Myung or Bryan Beller or even Karnivool’s Jon Stockman—venerable prog low-enders with an understated ability to shred who mostly ply their trade through tone and temperament. Check out “Kamilah” or “Giants Leaving” for prime examples of his rich, gritty tone and tactful performances. If “less is more” is the golden rule, Hoffman gets straight-As for how he applies himself to LDC’s music. His bass lines always seem resourcefully implemented, balancing melody with groove, and exercising the appropriate amount of restraint that elevates the songs into “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” territory. It’s a skill that few bands master truly artfully. Again, Pink Floyd comes to mind.
Over the course of their career, LDC has taken bold leaps into the future and, in doing so, they’ve become a modern benchmark for imaginative, progressive, and proudly eccentric heavy music. Immersive, progressive, and endlessly inventive, Eraser is another entrant into that fray for this most idiosyncratic of bands. –Freddy Villano