Bass Magazine digs into the latest releases of albums, books, and videos involving all things bass
Live Evil 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition [BMG/Rhino Entertainment]
A new era of Black Sabbath began in 1979 when singer Ronnie James Dio joined founding members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward to launch a fresh incarnation of the iconic heavy metal band. And when Live Evil arrived in 1983, after two successful studio albums, the two-disc set was a commercial and critical triumph, reaching #13 in the U.K. and #37 on theBillboard Top 200. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, including one from influential heavy metal magazine Kerrang! that hailed it as “one of the greatest live albums of all time.”
Now, Live Evil (Black Sabbath’s first official live album, incidentally) celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a Live Evil 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition that introduces newly remixed and remastered versions of the acclaimed record. Released on May 19 as a four-CD or four-LP set, the collection features two versions of the legendary album: the original, newly remastered by Andy Pearce, and a new mix created from the analog multi-tracks by longtime band associate Wyn Davis. The physical versions also come with illustrated hardback books that include new liner notes and replicas of the concert book.
Recorded on the Mob Rules tour in 1982, the live recordings capture the ferocious chemistry and dark magic that defined this incarnation of Black Sabbath, with thrilling versions of Dio-era classics like “Neon Knights,” “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” “Voodoo,” and “Children of the Sea.” The album also honors the band’s legacy with Dio-led versions of Sabbath staples like “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” “Iron Man,” and “N.I.B.”
Butler wielded a B.C. Rich Eagle during this era of Black Sabbath, and his tone on Live Evil is a testament to the craftsmanship in those instruments. Whether it’s a Dio-era song like “Children of the Sea,” or something older like “War Pigs,” Butler’s playing is articulate and forceful, undergirding Tony Iommi’s mammoth guitar sound every lick of the way. Another noteworthy stylistic change is that drummer Vinny Appice doesn’t exude the swing that was inherent in Bill Ward’s drumming style, making this version of Black Sabbath much more of a metal band for the modern era than it was previously. Butler’s tone, perhaps due to the active circuitry in the Eagle, proves its mettle in this heavier iteration, as well. As a side note, if you want to hear what Butler is up to on some of the older Sabbath material, Live Evil provides some insight, thanks to the clarity of the recordings and his performance.
Of the many highlights on Live Evil is the band’s tendency to break into seemingly impromptu jams, inspired perhaps by Dio’s Rainbow years, and when Butler gets a little funky in the breakdown on “Voodoo,” you can’t help imbibing in the good time these guys seem to be having onstage together — there’s a freewheeling bravado to these jams that didn’t really exist within the Ozzy Osbourne-era lineup. And while some may not like Dio’s interpretations of the Ozzy-era songs, there’s no arguing that Live Evil represents a band flexing its considerable musical muscle. Simply put, Live Evil is a career-defining statement that captures a reborn Black Sabbath in their prime. – Freddy Villano
Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath — and Beyond [Day Street Books]
Just before Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath ― and Beyond was released on June 6, 2023 (6/6/6 according to the press release, because the 2 times 3 in ’23 equals 6), Geezer Butler publicly admitted that he was forced to remove 50 pages of content for legal reasons. One can’t help but wonder how those missing artifacts would have helped shaped the narrative. For example, when he talks about quitting the much-ballyhooed reunion of the original lineup in 2011, and mentions that they’d gone so far as to replace him, but doesn’t say with who, we’re left without the kind of insider information these types of books are supposed to reveal.
Despite such missteps, Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath ― and Beyond is a rollicking, effusive, and candid memoir covering Butler’s years as Black Sabbath’s bassist and main lyricist, and detailing how one of rock’s most influential bands formed and prevailed. With over 70 million records sold, Black Sabbath (dubbed by Rolling Stone as “the Beatles of heavy metal”) helped to create the genre itself, with their distinctive heavy riffs, tuned-down guitars, and apocalyptic lyrics. As the band’s primary lyricist, Butler played a gigantic part in the band’s renown, from suggesting the band name to using his fascination with horror, religion, and the occult to compose the lyrics that built the foundation of heavy metal subject matter as we now know it.
In Into the Void, Butler tells a side of the story not much is known about — from the band’s humble beginnings as a scrappy blues quartet in Birmingham, England, through their struggles while touring around London’s gritty clubs. He writes honestly of his childhood in a working-class family of seven in Luftwaffe-battered Birmingham, his “almost-life” as an accountant, and how his relationships with organized religion and class systems would spawn the lyrical and artistic themes that resonate so powerfully with fans around the world.
The personal side of the memoir is probably the highlight, as he reveals the band’s Beatles influence, how he adopted his particular style of bass playing, and how his disillusionment with Black Sabbath in the ’90s led to the uber-heavy sounds of his solo projects, like GZR and the supergroups Heaven & Hell and Deadland Ritual. Since much of the Black Sabbath story is already well known, one wishes he might have delved a bit deeper into the technical aspects of tracking bass through the years, or his touring rigs and whatnot, but that isn’t really the gist of this book. Despite a few surprises peppered in here and there, one can’t help but wonder how those 50 deleted pages may have given the book the kind of edge Black Sabbath seemed to continually conjure musically. – Freddy Villano
Greatest Hits Live in ’76 [Mercury Studios]
The music of Marvin Gaye transcends time in ways that can’t be described. From relatable songs about romance and heartbreak, like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” to socially conscious meditations “What’s Going On” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” his music continues to resonate across generations. Captured on Marvin Gaye: Greatest Hits Live in ’76, these songs and many others were originally released on DVD in 2007, and they are now available as a standalone audio release on vinyl and CD for the first time.
Marvin Gaye cemented his legacy as a trailblazer in R&B and beyond as one of the most soulful, celebrated voices and songwriters in music history. His lush arrangements, irresistible grooves, and silky smooth yet emotive vocal delivery earned him 12 Grammy nominations, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. However, the true magic of Gaye’s music was his ability to weave emotion or deep socio-political commentary into melodies and harmonics that, sonically, left the listener feeling good, no matter what the sentiment behind the lyrics — a rare and difficult feat. He also surrounded himself with incredible musicians.
Marvin Gaye: Greatest Hits Live in ’76 was recorded in the midst of his 1976 European tour, during a live performance at the Edenhalle Concert Hall in Amsterdam. As was typical for Motown recordings of the 1960s, Greatest Hits Live in ’76 doesn’t list the musicians who supported Gaye live, but the best guess is that the incredible bass playing was either Frank Blair or Gerald Brown ably holding down those kinetic grooves during this time period. The 20-plus-song set features an abundance of Marvin Gaye’s beloved hit songs, which originally featured the studio bass work of Motown Funk Brothers James Jamerson and/or Bob Babbitt (with both appearing on “Inner City Blues”) as well as session heavies Chuck Rainey, Wilton Felder, and Ron Brown.
According to 17a7.com, in 1976 at the age of 22, Gerald Brown got a phone call from Marvin Gaye, who had heard of him and was looking for a new bass player. Reportedly, he was picked up for his technique and his groove. “I knew the Motown style by heart,” he recalled. “I had played it over and over again in my room. It was my stuff.” Brown also played with Freddie Hubbard and Hubert Laws, among others. Blair, along with battery mate John Khaleefa (drums), played in the Soul Chargers band as well as other top bands since the mid ’60s, including Joe Tex and Robert Palmer, and he first recorded with Marvin Gaye on the 1978 album Here, My Dear.
Whether it’s Blair or Brown, one truth remains: the powerful bass lines that helped propel Marvin Gaye’s most popular songs are a wonder to experience live, and they are beautifully interpreted and performed on Marvin Gaye: Greatest Hits Live in ’76. – Freddy Villano
Iroko [Naïve Records]
The formidable duo of bassist/composer Avishai Cohen and legendary Latin percussionist/vocalist Abraham “Abie” Rodriguez take on all manner of Afro-Cuban music to powerful effect on Iroko. The opener, “The Healer,” establishes Cohen’s understanding of his big-toned upright as a percussion instrument — in this setting, actually multiple percussion instruments. He’s in lockstep with Rodriguez, whose expressive vocals throughout provide a universal connection to the music. By “Abie’s Thing,” Cohen expands his roles, playing tumbaos and montunos together and soloing in the sweet spot between jazz and rhythmic counterpoint. Peak points include highly original covers of “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Venus,” and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” and Cohen’s ear-twisting polyrhythmic part on “Descarga Para Andy,” for the late Latin bass great Andy Gonzalez. –Chris Jisi
The Elektra Albums 1983–1987 [BMG]
Currently the bassist and musical director in Foreigner, Jeff Pilson is a multi-instrumentalist/producer who first made a name for himself with ’80s metal icons Dokken. Hailing from Los Angeles, Dokken released a string of platinum albums throughout the 1980s and toured the globe with the biggest names in hard rock and heavy metal, including Van Halen, Aerosmith, Metallica, Scorpions, and Kiss. They have sold more than ten million albums worldwide, and their live album Beast from the East was nominated for the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1989. The band had several hit singles on the Mainstream Rock and Billboard Hot 100 charts and were all over MTV during their heyday. The Elektra Albums 1983–1987 is a limited-edition box set that includes Dokken’s first four studio albums, Breaking the Chains, Tooth and Nail, Under Lock and Key, and Back for the Attack, as either a five-LP or five-CD collection. Along with Pilson on bass and backing vocals, three of these albums feature the classic lineup of Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), and “Wild” Mick Brown (drums). All four albums have been newly remastered by Andy Pearce (Black Sabbath, Motorhead).
Of the four classic-era Dokken albums, Pilson recorded Tooth and Nail (1984), Under Lock and Key (1985), and Back for the Attack (1987), as well as the gold-certified Beast from the East. In addition to playing bass, Pilson co-wrote many of Dokken’s best-known and most successful songs, including “Just Got Lucky,” “Alone Again,” “Into the Fire,” “The Hunter,” “In My Dreams,” “It’s Not Love,” “Kiss of Death,” and “Dream Warriors.” Although the bass suffered from the mixing and production aesthetics of the time (many L.A. bands did, not just Dokken), Pilson’s talent is irrefutable. He’s clear about his role in this particular style of hard rock — his playing serves the song, providing a foundation for everyone else to shine, while his backing vocals enhance the melodies, and his songwriting chops helped to elevate the band into the mainstream.
After the breakup of Dokken (in the wake of their now-infamous 1988 Monsters of Rock Tour), Pilson formed his own group called Flesh & Blood, handling lead vocal and rhythm guitar duties. After changing the name to War & Peace, he released a total of four albums, starting with 1993’s Time Capsule. Pilson also had an extended stint with Dio in the 1990s, appearing on both Strange Highways (1993) and Angry Machines (1996); he played fictional heavy metal bassist Jörgen in the 2001 film Rock Star, and he voiced Johnny Cage for the 2011 video game Mortal Kombat. Despite such heavy credentials, and aside from the longevity of his current gig with Foreigner, it seems that Pilson’s tenure in Dokken remains his most notable calling card. The Elektra Albums 1983–1987 is a worthy testament to his immense musicality and craftsmanship. – Freddy Villano
Ancient Future [Gearbox]
Jazz vocalist Dwight Trible, a fixture in Los Angeles — having collaborated with everyone from Pharoah Sanders to Kamasi Washington — brings together a wide-ranging SoCal roster that includes mainstream keyboardist John Beasley, guitarist G.E. Stinson and drummer Greg Paul from the “underground” scene, and Gospel and funk force Andrew Gouché. Compiled from live and remote sessions, the eight tracks give Gouché a blank canvas, resulting in some of the baddest bass work of the year. The opener, “Truth,” bursts forth with Gouché’s bubbling 16ths serving as both the foundation and crux of the track, around Trible’s thoughts delivered recitative-style. “Beach Vibes” gives a nod to “Red Clay,” with Gouché developing his funky ostinato throughout. “Derf Reklaw” (Fred Walker backwards?) unleashes Gouché in a Weather Report-like boogie groove. He steps out with Pastorian passion, issuing rising and falling riffs and deft chordal passages against Trible’s rhythmic chanting and scatting. “Elements” gives Gouché the opportunity to break out his envelope and octaver pedals to augment his serious swung-funk subhook. Even “Black Dance,” with its angular, experimental pulse and free form, gets its center from Gouché’s soulful syncopation. Andrew may have been an unexpected call here, but he’s totally in his element. –Chris Jisi
Time Flies [Wounded Bird]
Drummer Steve Smith’s long-running Vital Information has yet another transformation, returning to its jazzier roots with the powerhouse duo of Cuban pianist Manuel Valera and Janek Gwizdala. The trio launches with Valera’s hard-hitting “Emergeance,” riding Gwizdala’s funky, octaver-induced ostinato. The Bud Powell bebop burner “Tempus Fugue It” follows, featuring Janek’s rangy, probing solo. The group-written jam “Time Flies” returns to the back beat side, before the standard “Darn That Dream” gets a major reworking via the hands of Valera and Gwizdala’s blistering solo. Mike Mainieri joins on vibes for Valera’s “No Qualms,” and tenor sax legend George Garzone tears up McCoy Tyner’s “Inception.” Elsewhere, Janek takes a thoughtful solo turn on Smith’s “Choreography in Six” before reviving one of his best compositions, “Erdnase,” to close the record on an elegant note. –Chris Jisi
The Unwinding [SteepleChase]
Steve Millhouse is a veteran New York and Broadway bassist known for championing the electric bass in jazz and for his chordal mastery on his Fodera 6-string Contrabass Guitar. His latest trio date with tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and drummer Eric Halvorson furthers both causes considerably. The unit deftly visits such jazz standards as Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You,” and Horace Silver’s “Soulville,” with Millhouse chording for the heads, walking for Perry’s solos, and taking his own solo flights with the help of Perry’s guide tones. He gives a nod to his instrument’s history with covers of Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace” and Sam Jones’ “Seven Minds” — the former buffeted by his bold chord clusters all over the fingerboard, the latter finding him utilizing 4ths to capture the sound of Cedar Walton’s piano voicings on the original. Most inspiring, however, are Millhouse’s two originals: On the comfortably swinging “I Don’t Know Yet,” he underpins his melody (expressively interpreted by Perry) with fresh-sounding three-note block chords, as Halvorson freely fills the open spaces. And, he introduces the title track via an ear-grabbing fingerstyle bass-and-chordal figure in 6/8 that unfolds into a memorable Perry-rendered melody over Millhouse’s angular chordal clinic. –Chris Jisi