The Danish dame goes slapless on her singer–songwriter album
Earlier this year, Danish bassist Ida Nielsen released her fifth solo album, 02022020 [Marmalade Productions]. This new studio offering eschews the full-on funk of her previous four solo outings, revealing a more introspective and intimate side, while still serving up a strong collection of carefully honed 4-string-forged compositions.
On the album, Nielsen — who famously held down the bass chair in Prince’s backing bands New Power Generation and 3rdeyegirl — combines new material with re-workings of earlier tracks, with help from members of her solo band, the Funkbots. The disk’s eight tracks span a variety of styles, from the mellow chordal work of “Librarian Way” to the reggae-tinged bounce of “Booyah (the Spin Off),” via the ghost-note-dotted disco flavors of “Vibes.”
Notably, there isn’t a single slapped note on the entire disk. Explains Nielsen: “I’d been working on two albums and had quite a lot of songs going in different directions. One was a funky album, but I also had all these other songs, too. Then, when I discovered that February 2 was numerically palindromic , I just had to release something on that date because it’s so cool. My previous four solo albums were all funk-based, so I thought it was time to do something a little different and show another side of my music. But, to be honest, it was also because I could finish the songs on 02022020 faster than the funk album,” she laughs.
The fourth track, “Feels So,” is an ear-grabbing, harmonics-peppered number featuring Nielsen’s mellifluous vocals, Phong Le’s ethereal keyboards, and “programmed” input from drummer Patrick Dorcean. Ida notes: “I had a recording of Patrick’s drums [from the original sessions] with a part that wasn’t used. So, I took that part and edited it — I basically programmed his live drums. Then I added my bass part and a bit of keys, and then I sent it to Phong, who added his stuff on top. I also sang the vocals. When I got stuff back from Phong, I redid some vocal stuff, to make more space for him.”
In keeping with the rest of the album, Nielsen recorded “Feels So” using her signature Sandberg bass, strung with DR Strings Pure Blues (.040–.100), and recorded via a DI that ran directly into her computer soundcard.
The track begins with Nielsen showcasing the primary bass motif, a tasty mix of fretted notes and harmonics. “The song started with the bass riff,” she recalls. “I was just messing around, but it lies nicely in the hand. and I thought it was pretty.” (“Feels So” originally appeared on Nielsen’s second solo album, 2011’s Sometimes a Girl Needs Some Sugar Too on Marmalade Productions.)
Although the notation may appear slightly intimidating, the main bass parts fall easily under the fingers; with a little practice, they feel surprisingly natural when combined with the right-hand finger-pats that help maintain the groove. Of these rhythmic taps, Ida says, “It’s just how I play it. When you make something up, you don’t think too much about how you’re doing it — you’re just doing it.”
Harmonically, the main theme (heard in the intro, and letters A1 and A2, etc.) starts in D major, drifts tantalizingly toward G major via a D7/F# chord on beats three and four of the initial bar of each two-bar long phrase, and hints at C major in the second bar of the phrase with a non-resolved IIm–V progression in C (Dm–Gsus), before twisting back to a D major chord for the next iteration.
Letter B shifts harmonic focus, shuffling between the first inversions of G major and G minor chords, while rhythmically reflecting the intensified stylings of the vocal line. “I like to be harmonically surprised,” says Ida. “It can be just a little bit of a surprise, but it might not be something you’re expecting.”
Keen ears will discern Nielsen warming up for the overdubbed bass solo from bar 37 onward with quiet ghost-notes and subtle glisses, before she steps out in earnest at letter C with a high G, held over from bar 40 (crunching juicily against the major 3rd of the downbeat D chord, F#).
“I start the solo as I did on the original, and then I just go wherever it takes me,” observes Nielsen. “It was a one-take solo.”
Here, Ida’s deploys her fluid technique to lay down a rich, melodic solo brimming with slides, pull-offs, hammer-ons, and right-hand taps. “I’m always thinking about melody. When I started playing, it was very hard for me to play solos; I felt like I had to hit the root and go from there. What helped me become a more melodic soloist was being able to sing a solo — I mean singing without playing. When I started doing that, my whole way of playing solos changed. Listening to how other instrumentalists like guitarists and trumpeters play solos and phrase differently also helped.”
Note Ida’s knowing use of the six-note D blues scale over the solo’s D major chords, repeatedly leaning into the flattened 5th (Ab) to add color and interest (bars 41, 44, etc.). Dig also how she often spells out chord tones to help orientate the ear (the Bb-to-G line in bar 42 and the descending D major arpeggio in bar 47 are good examples). Other highlights include the insistent 16th-triplet figure in bars 48–49, which bustles to a neat close in bar 50; the striking use of the major 6th (Bn over the D major chord) near the start of bar 53; and the subtle right-hand taps that signal the end of the solo in bars 56–57.
Letters D and E reprise the bridge and main theme sections, before the song winds down via the theme-based outro at F, enlivened by Phong Le’s ethereal keyboard solo. “Phong’s amazing,” enthuses Nielsen. “His solo gives the song extra magic and makes it very atmospheric. He plays so beautifully and adds a vibe that takes it to the next level.”
Ida’s recording and touring diary remain relatively full: “I think another new album will be coming out next year, and I might do a single release or two this year, depending on how fast I can get my stuff together. The Funkbots are currently touring, which is a bit insane because we’re in the middle of a pandemic! We just played some shows in Denmark, and tonight we’re playing the first night of our European tour in Austria. All the venues we’ve played at have been really great, keeping it safe both for the audience and the band. So, it’s actually been quite a positive experience. It’s been great to be able to play out a little again.” –BM
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