Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Sean O'Bryan Smith - The Interview

If you haven't yet read our Thunder Row review of Sean O'Bryan Smith's album, REFLECTION, you can check it out HERE.

Now that the review is done, Sean was kind enough to answer some of our questions concerning playing bass as a lead instrument, and how he approaches the art of making music.

TR: Thanks for talking with us. Let’s start with the relationship between the bassist and the drummer.

SO’S: This is always a great topic. Without sounding too cliché, the relationship for the rhythm section is that of a true musical marriage. GREAT rhythm section pairings are those that are well in tune and honed. You have to be locked in as one person as much as possible. Of course the best way to achieve this is to play with your musical partner for years so that you're of one mind. This is what I have with my primary touring/recording drummer, Glenn Williams, but the reason that is can be realized quickly with no drummers as well. You have to LISTEN!!! If the two of you are truly listening to each other, that is 80% of it. The other 20% to me is adapting to how each other feels time. Every single one of us feels time differently so you have to see where the other puts the note and adapt to it. Once you've done that you can sound like you've been playing together for thirty years when in fact you may have met that day on the gig.

TR: If you’re recording a number that doesn’t feature a drummer, do you feel any sense that something’s missing? Do you fill the theoretical spaces with a more percussive sound of your own?

SO’S: It can be challenging… and freeing as well. I don’t feel threatened personally without drummers since it is something I've had to do since I picked up the instrument for various jazz and singer/songwriter scenarios. There are two approaches depending on the gig itself. You can add all of the percussive aspect and be the entire rhythm section yourself, which is fun, or you can allow yourself the freedom of not being a slave to time and adapt to the other players. Ultimately, I enjoy a hybrid of both depending on the song, so that it best tells the story of the musical moment I am in at the time. Those end up being some of my favorite musical moments in life.

TR: When the bass is featured as the lead instrument on an album, it must be particularly important to have a guitarist who can work around you, rather than the other way around.

SO’S: LOVE this question since it took me a bit to realize early on in my career that I needed guitarists who can count more than guys that can shred constantly. Again this is an area in which I'm blessed.

TR: Who are the guitarists you find the most creative in this role?

SO’S: My longtime guitarist Ric Latina - in my group - is one of the best at this; he feels time like a rhythm section guy. His pocket is deep so it makes for great musical moments. The other key factor is guys or gals who know how and when to support a solo bassist by padding, covering the low end, etc., and not just dropping out for the obligatory bass wank moment. Again, this is why Ric has been with me for nearly a decade. Others I admire and work for/with that are stellar at this have been guitar greats Larry Carlton, Chuck Loeb, Joe Taylor, Neil Zaza, Stan Lassiter, Rich Eckhardt, Jimmy Dormire and Chris Poland.

TR: Do you prefer your live performances to be structured or more free and improvisational?

SO’S: For me "Free is the Key". I am by no means a slave to structure live. I want the music to be fresh and have its own journey from night to night. I am passionate about this for a number of reasons. First off, I'm not overly concerned with recreating my albums live. In my mind the albums were THAT moment and the live performances should be their own. That is why I barely (if ever) rehearse my guys, and we constantly bring in additional guest players. It adds a newness to the performance that I live for. This also hits on the other reasons. It keeps my guys from getting burned out playing the same songs, and most importantly, it takes the fans on a different trip every night. No two of my shows have been nor will ever be the same.

TR: When you record a vocal song (cover) as an instrumental, is it more difficult to portray the “sense” of the tune when the bass is doing the “singing” instead of a human being?

SO’S: Absolutely, partially because it is a challenge to just cop the notes on a stringed instrument. The human voice is already the most diverse instrument that will ever be, and the nuances of it are a challenge to recreate. Of course that is part of the reason I do it. Ha.

For me I have been blessed to have always been surrounded by great vocalists so incorporating their phrasing into my playing has always been part of my style. There are particular approaches to bends and sliding into notes that make it more "vocal" like, which helps translate a more singing line. The thing to remember as an instrumentalist is that you're never going to truly cop the human voice so don't try. Make the melody your own and play it from the heart. THEN you'll be singing.

TR: Do you prefer to work with people who feel familiar, and consistently “mesh” with your musical ideas, or do you like others to challenge your creativity with suggestions that might take you to a place you wouldn’t normally go? In other words, do you consider yourself more of a leader of a collaborator?

SO’S: Ha. I'm the consummate collaborator, or as some have called me a "collaboration whore". I'm constantly collaborating with artists all over the globe. It is that freshness from living on the musical edge that makes me who I am. Of course, we are hopefully still "meshing" but it doesn't have to be strictly my ideas to do so. I think this is one of the joys of being a bassist. We're trained to be support systems for artists or soloists so I do the same with collaborators. If they hear something new on my music I go there. They may hear something I never thought of and I'm always up for the new experience. This is also why I do the projects and tours I do. One of the reasons I've worked with over a hundred artists of virtually every musical gamut is that I'm always collaborating on new material; this is the full driving force of my international efforts. I LOVE world music and what better challenge is there than immersing yourself in another culture?

TR: Do you compose music alone or do you like feedback/collaboration during the process?

SO’S: Composing is where I tend to work alone. I typically have a pretty solid idea of where I want the song itself to go and also the overall production since I am a producer as well. I like to hone melodies, etc. before bringing in other musicians. That's the point I let them do their thing. Once the composing has been fine-tuned I let the musicians interpret it in their own way. That is where the collaboration aspect rears its head. That is where all the good stuff lives.

TR: Have you ever had any negative experiences that made you second guess yourself as a musician? Maybe made you contemplate giving up?

SO’S: Daily honestly. Lets face the facts. Being a full time musician and providing for your family in this time is tough. There are always challenges and there always will be in one’s musical career. The only goal is to get back on that horse. That's what I have to do. I CANNOT give up and truthfully I'd love to a lot of the time. The workload for working musicians is enormous if you're "successful".

TR: What drives you to stay with it?

SO’S: I'm luckily too stubborn to quit but I also feel GOD gave me a gift and a job to do with my music. I am supposed to share it. It's that simple so I drive on. 

TR: Who have been/are the biggest influences on your musical career?

SO’S: There are actually a few for me that are my "life-changers". First is my mother. She's a former blues and jazz singer, and she's hands down the reason my love for music was born and why I picked it up. The second is my best friend and musical partner of 30 years, Tommy Ogle. He's one of the finest musicians on Earth and has been part of my backbone forever it seems. The next two represent a huge part of my musical foundation. The first is award winning songwriter/producer to the stars Monty Powell. From him I learned the "art" of honing a song and how to produce albums. I utilize his influence in my career every single day. The final “I thank you from the bottom of my heart” is my pianist/blood brother Jeff Franzel. Jeff is an absolute gift to music and is basically music incarnate when performing. There is no other musician on the planet that can get more out of me and push me further. If anyone ever gets to check him out they should do so. I have to do a quick add on too. I've always loved Victor Wooten's work, obviously, and recently I've been spending some time with Vic and he's quickly becoming part of this list.

TR: Are you where you want to be as a musician?

SO’S: NEVER! Ha. I'm always recreating and exploring musically. I think if I ever get happy with where I am musically then it is time to retire.

TR: What’s still to come?

SO’S: I'll be scoring more and more which will continue to show my other musical sides to fans. I have two different soundtracks coming out (one in India and one in the US) that have me playing piano for the entire scores. I'm also heavily involved with Australia's Emergence Records to do some electronic and dance projects plus a recent record deal signing with India's Chill Om Records for an ambient release.

As a player, I'm touring heavily with instrumental guitarists which I am loving. It has turned the rockers onto my career and fans aren't used to seeing me that aggressive which has been a blast. I'll be continuing touring with Neil Zaza and Joe Taylor to pursue this and many others are "in talks".

TR: What would you like to try that you haven’t done before?

SO’S: I think it would be doing a lot more international touring and collaborating. I love ALL music so of course I want an outlet to do it ALL.

TR: Who are you listening to these days?

SO’S: Composers primarily. A huge part of my work is as a film and TV composer so I've been digging into more orchestrators lately. I've been digging more into Hans Zimmer's work as well as Tyler Bates. Oddly enough this makes me a better bassist. Talk about learning to be a support player. Ha.

TR: And what’s coming up next on your schedule?

SO’S: LOTS of recording in coming weeks. I'm recording two albums for indie artists plus wrapping the second Kazhargan World album for Russian pianist Stanislav Zaslavsky. I have a number of projects for Emergence coming up and I'm also in production now for my fourth album "A Day With My Imaginary Friends" which will come out next year with a corresponding US Tour. I'll also be back out with Neil and Joe before the year is up so life is busy. Busy pays bills.

TR: Thanks for answering our questions! We look forward to the new album!

Check out Sean O'Bryan Smith online.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Interview With Antoine Fafard

When I listened to Antoine Fafard's album, Occultus Tramitis, I immediately started forming questions about the ideas that went into creating the songs. Antoine's bass playing is unique and creative. And he's a Canadian-born musician, so - despite the fact that he resides in the UK - my interest was sparked a little bit more concerning this fellow Canuck.

Antoine was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Enjoy!

TR: Do you come from a musical family?

AF: My father was a banjo player/singer and recorded a few records of international folk music with his quartet in the 1960s. His band was playing a lot - enough for him to finance his studies. Unfortunately he completely stopped so I very rarely heard him play. My older brother is also a musician (a drummer and singer), and he introduced me to a lot of music growing up. We also played together in various bands. It was with him on drums that I began to experiment with my own compositions.

TR: What was the first instrument you played?

AF: It was the piano. I played for only a few years. I switched to the classical guitar which I played for a while before I decided that the electric bass was going to be my main instrument.

TR: Why?

AF: There was a special attraction to the electric bass. I also thought that there were a lot of new techniques to be discovered on the instrument, and ways to be original. I knew that it was the instrument for me.

TR: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up? 

AF: I went through various phases. The very first bands I listened to - and really enjoyed - were AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Who.

TR: You'd be very popular among Thunder Row members!

AF: I also listened to harder rock bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica. I later got into progressive rock with bands like King Crimson, Rush, Yes, ELP, and UK. Around the same time I discovered prog, I began to enjoy jazz fusion more and more.

TR: And you were listening to...?

AF: The main jazz band at the time which had quite a lot of visibility in Canada was UZEB. So on the bass, the main influences were John Paul Jones, John Entwistle and Geddy Lee first, then Alain Caron and Jaco Pastorius followed.

TR: Do you still listen to these people?

AF: I’m still a fan of all those musicians and bands I’ve listened over years.

TR: Where did you study music?

AF: I took classical guitar lessons privately for about six years. Then the main two schools I went to were the Cégep St-Laurent, and Université de Montréal where I spent three years in each. Those two schools had a big influence on my development as a musician.

TR: While listening to Occultus Tramitis, I sensed you still lean toward a classical style. 

AF: I think that in retrospect, my music features a real fusion of styles. When I am composing, I don’t think about whether my music will fit a specific genre or not. I have listened and studied classical and jazz, although I wouldn’t I’m an expert in any of those genres.

TR: Describe your process of composing.

AF: I use jazz theory as a language which is a practical way to analyse my music and to communicate with my collaborators. But overall I would say that my approach to composition is intuitive. Saying that, I’m aware of what I do and always make a conscious effort not to repeat myself too much, and not use the same formula over and over. This is why I think my music ends up being pretty eclectic.

TR: With regard the song titles, time signatures, etc., you seem to demand a lot from a composition (and therefore from yourself). 

AF: I definitely like to challenge myself, but I don’t look for the ultimate complexity in what I compose.

TR: Do you prefer more in-depth music?

AF: If something is relatively complex, it needs to serve the music, not the other way around. It’s all a question of finding the right balance. I do love to play around various odd time signatures, create original arrangements and compose interesting chord progressions.

TR: How do you feel about simpler songs with traditional bass parts?

AF: I have absolutely nothing against those! I actually sometimes think that some of my music is not that far from traditional.

TR: In general, what part does the bass play in music?

AF: The role of the bass guitar is essentially to supply the root notes. It is the function of any instrument which - by design - produces the frequencies in that lower range. That being said, there’s nothing wrong in using the instrument for melodies and solos. Personally, I rarely play the melodies on my songs, but I do make room for bass solos. It’s up to the originally of the performer to use an instrument in non-conventional ways. I guess I’m kind of conventional in my approach to the instrument, although my music is not always conventional!

TR: What about video? Do you “see” the music in visual form as you create?

AF: I don’t really visualise anything when I compose; I really concentrate on the sonic aspect, but I do enjoy using videos in order to make my music a little bit more accessible to a wider audience. Although you must be careful as the visual element can potentially be slightly distracting. I think that generally my music can be appreciated for what it is and doesn’t need anything else to enhance it. It’s already busy as it is!

TR: Who do you play for? The listener? The musicians you work with? Yourself? 

AF: At the core, I try to compose and execute music that I personally find fulfilling from the creative aspect. I might not always achieve that goal, but the creative process is really what I believe artists in general live for. But I also transpose myself as the listener while I compose. The advantage of being able to compose and record in your home studio is that you can take long breaks from a given song and get back into it fresh, like if you hadn’t composed the piece. Sometimes, if the break is long enough, you might have almost completely forgotten that you had composed it! I think this is a great way to analyse your work and enhance it. I would also add that the reason I release my music in the end is that ultimately I want to share my work with the world. So in review, it begins as something personal then becomes something universal.

TR: Describe your audience.

AF: I think that my audience is mainly a mix of people who like progressive rock and jazz fusion. You also have those who are simply fans of bass players or drummers. One thing they all have in common is the genuine passion they have for music. It’s always great to hear feedback from people who take the time to listen to what I do. You can tell they have listened carefully to the music and are really serious in their appreciation!

TR: How did you come to gather the musicians together for Occultus Tramitis?

AF: I simply hired musicians I’ve admired over the years and contacted each of them with a specific song in mind. I actually didn’t have a specific idea on who I would have on the album when I began to work on the project. I was just hoping that whoever I approached would be interested in participating and would have the availability to do so. I was lucky as it worked out well for most of the musicians I’ve approached.

TR: What’s coming up next? Touring? Recording?

AF: I’ve recently played a few gigs with my trio here in London. One of the shows was filmed and I’ve been posting the songs from that evening on my YouTube channel. I might have the chance to perform with the trio in festivals in 2014. I’ve also started to compose and record some new music.

TR: Thanks for talking with us!

AF: It’s my pleasure and thanks for your support!

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Gary Karr - May I Take Your Order?

Album Review
Gary Karr - Super Double Bass - The Artistry of Gary Karr
Genre - Instrumental

How do you like your coffee? Dark and strong? Medium roast? Maybe something gentler, with cream or sugar? A flavour for everybody, no matter what you prefer. If the double bass was a cup of coffee, Karr would be your Barista.

When choosing an album to review, I narrowed it down to “Spirituals and Foster Songs” or “Super Double Bass.” In the end, I chose “Super Double Bass” because it had some of the Stephen Foster works, and some Spirituals, but it also dipped a little into a couple of classical pieces that I like. I still plan to get the other CD, but for the review, Super Double Bass is a fine order.

In addition to Karr, the album featured pianist/keyboardist, Harmon Lewis, Karr’s longtime collaborator on many of his recorded projects. Lewis is the perfect counterbalance to Karr’s swirling moods on the double bass.

Before I take my first sip, I wanted to include a bit of information on a very special bass that Karr has used (not on this album, but in one of the videos featured later on).

After reading this background, I thought about how electric bass players admire the basses from the 1950s and 60s as being “vintage.” The debate over the actual manufacturing date of Karr’s Amati bass notwithstanding, I am in awe of someone playing a bass that was made (at least) two centuries ago. I’m not taking anything away from the vintage electrics - I’m just giving an appropriate nod of admiration and respect to such an impressive work of art as the Amati. Watch the video at the end of the review – Karr is actually playing the Amati in that one.

Okay, on with the album review.

We begin with Amazing Grace and a lone bass, playing solo, its high registers sounding more like a viola than a double bass. Quiet and calling to the sky. Then Lewis joins in with (what I believe to be) a drawbar organ. The bass comes in again, this time with the deep resonance we all know and expect, and all Heaven breaks loose! The majesty of this song never fails to thrill me. People know this song, and love this song, and they like it to be played well. Karr and Lewis do not disappoint.

Next up is the Minuet for keyboard No. 1 in G major. Karr delivers a fine rendition, and Lewis’ keyboard sounds almost like a calliope. Very light and lilting. At just over a minute and a half, it’s the waltz for those who haven’t a lot of time (heh, heh). At the risk of sounding trashy, I also love the pop rendition of the Minuet, called “A Lover’s Concerto”, done by The Toys. “How gentle is the rain... that falls softly on the meadow...” You know it. The 4/4 version of a waltz.

Deep River is the next number. This is a traditional African Spiritual. Though Karr plays the instrumental version, you can still hear the lyrics in every stroke of the bow. It’s a solemn and moving piece.

Deep River, my home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord. I want to cross over into campground.
Deep River. My home is over Jordan.
Deep River, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.
Oh, don't you want to go to the Gospel feast;
That Promised Land, where all is peace?
Oh, Deep River, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Fum, Fum, Fum (till her Daddy takes the T-Bird away) Ha, just kidding. Fum, Fum, Fum is a short, little Christmas song. Karr plays the double bass like a classical guitar. You’ll be shocked (and mightily impressed) by his strumming. The entire sample is less than 45 seconds long! That’s all it takes. Like a sip of fine espresso. Ahhh.

Old Folks at Home is the first Stephen Foster song on the album. Most of us know this one as Suwannee River, or Way Down Upon The Suwannee River. I love all of Stephen Foster’s work, and this one is really nicely done. The bass is deep and haunting; midway through, Karr changes keys and brings the bass up into a sweet voice that really “sings”. Another key change and we are back into that viola or violin range. Such versatility and flavour! Lewis’ piano is so sweet. Foster would be moved.

Bach’s Gavotte is next up on the menu. Karr takes big bites out of the piece. It’s played in 4/4 time, and he chomps in “on the one”. If this was a modern song, we’d be calling it FUNK. This would be great for a funk player who wanted to adapt this piece to something modern.

Tosca - Act 3. E lucevan le stelle. Lewis starts us off with some sorrowful piano, then Karr joins in with melancholy phrases in the mid-range of his bass. A very heartfelt rendition.

Next up is my favourite piece on the entire album: Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer. I have a bit of a story about this song. As a child, this was one of the first songs ever taught me by my mother, but because she didn’t know all the words properly, she turned it into kind of a lullaby for her uncontrollable children. Instead of singing, “Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me. Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee,” she would sing, “Beautiful Dreamer, sing for your Mum. Get into bed or I’ll wallop your bum.” ...or something like that.

(Ahem) Anyway, Karr and Lewis play it with all the emotion Foster intended. It’s supposed to be a song about someone who has died, and the singer who wishes that she find peace in Heaven – kind of a re-birthing of her soul without all its troubles. Lewis gives us a magnificently simple opening, and then is joined by the plaintive crying of the bass. The second part is played in that lower register and the mood shifts immediately to a sadder place. The fact that Karr switches keys and/or octaves throughout his songs is a sign he knows the bass from end to end, and does not limit its voice. I like that.

Next for us to taste is Schubert’s Ave Maria. At over five minutes, Karr does not cheat the listener with a pared down version. And Lewis knows that there MUST be an opening of organ music to make this song complete. After all, this is a church song, and the organ is a MUST. Karr plays the piece slowly and with reverence, switching to a lower octave on the second round - the full-body of which can bring a person to tears.

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. Wow! Karr takes this Spiritual all over the board! It’s staccato, then smooth. He bows, then plucks, then bows again. You can hear the bow grinding on the strings. It’s both playful and deep at the same time.

Old Black Joe is the next Foster tune. (sigh) There’s no denying that Foster was a racist, and he wrote a lot of his songs from that vantage point. But I also think Karr chose these songs as a representation of the period in time, and plays them not from a place of celebration of racism, but rather inward reflection about the way things were. He plays sadly and with question. Lewis on piano adds to the mood. I think you’ll understand what I mean when you listen to it. It's not bouncy and happy; it's introspective and thoughtful.

Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer is a nice game for Karr and Lewis. They play off each other and seem to have great fun doing so.

This video example does not have Harmon Lewis in it, but it does feature Karr playing that Amati bass I mentioned earlier. The man is a true Entertainer!

Last on our menu of delicious treats is the Adagio in G minor. Most people (if they aren't readily familiar with the name) recognise this piece when they hear it. In addition to having been recorded countless numbers of times in all forms and arrangements, it’s also one of the most widely used pieces in movies and television. In our album here, Karr and Lewis play with more emotion than I've heard in previous renditions. Karr knows his instrument thoroughly and never holds back in mood or feeling. There are moments in this version where his double bass sounds almost like gypsy violins, and other times when it reaches the depths only a double bass could find. When those moments come, you almost slide down off your chair to match the notes. Down, and down, and down.

Like I said at the beginning, Karr is like a maker of a fine cup of coffee. He knows what the Customer likes and gives it up with true affection, personal attention, and skill. He seems the kind of guy who’d give you a cup even if you had no money to pay; he’s just that devoted to his craft.

There are samples of all the songs on the album at Help yourself, and then buy a copy. Maybe check out the “Spirituals and Foster Songs” album, too.

Don’t forget to check out Karr’s Website as well. He has Method Books and other merch for sale, as well as a wide selection of albums.

Also, if you go to YouTube and search for Gary Karr, there is a multitude of videos on him and his work.

Treat yourself to a special cup of the finest!

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Fuss On The Buss

DVD Review
Fuss On The Buss - Various Artists
Genre: Music

For our review this time, instead of looking at a solely musical album, I decided to review a DVD music documentary. This is the DVD that celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Warwick basses (well, 30 years of ALL products, but it’s all about the bass, right?)

According to Warwick, Fuss On The Buss 2 was:

Some of the world's most famous bass players join on the Warwick bus for jams and interviews and simply a good time.

Featuring Jonas Hellborg, Steve Bailey, Lee Sklar, Robert Trujillo, Mike Inez, Ralphe Armstrong, Bootsy Collins, TM Stevens, Divinity Roxx, Larry Graham, P-Nut, Jäcki Reznicek, and Verdine White.

We open with a montage of introductions of the players, and some Warwick publicity shots near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. After that, we join a three-way chat session by Verdine White, Bootsy Collins, and Larry Graham. Steve Bailey is present as well, but the main focus of the chat is the reminiscing between Graham, White, and Collins. These chats turn out to be the tie-together between outrageously potent jam sessions, and form the backbone of the whole trip. You listen to the men as they share stories, then take off for a bass jam from differently grouped participants from among the roster.

The first chat includes some stories about past gigs and finding the funk… then feeling it and make it your own. White speaks from the heart, Graham nods and rumbles the air with his big, slow baritone, and Bootsy - well, Bootsy is Bootsy, excited wild-child whose energy about the bass and music in general raises the roof on the bus.

Then we get a funky, almost rappy improv with Divinity Roxx leading the boys through their paces about staying on the ONE!

Another round of chat follows with our “Godfathers of Bass” trio, and, of course, Steve Bailey, as they engage us with more of the past. What’s best about these chat vignettes between jams is that they become more and more involving as we learn from the previous clip. Each session adds more to the conversational theme. Larry Graham seems to be the head of the class here as the others begin to single him out as the real leader of the pack. The effect he has had on the rest of them begins to take centre stage. Larry is quiet and thoughtful about these praises, and you can see him turning inward to the emotional and spiritual side of receiving praise.

After this comes Hellborg on a hollow-body, fretless Warwick. Beautiful instrument. Beautiful sound. Oh yeah, that’s another thing about this documentary: you’ll never see so many gorgeous basses on one bus. Be prepared to be dazzled!

The chat that follows this jam is about Larry Graham’s involvement with Sly and The Family. Bootsy gives us a taste of what it was like to hear Graham on “Dance With The Music, which - if you follow Thunder Row - everybody knows is what brought me on board as a fan! As they talk, Larry actually does the line... well, I won’t spoil the thrill for you.

Next up is the biggest, baddest jam by Robert Trujillo on his chrome ax. All fuzzed out, he shows us a different side of funk. On the upper registers is Steve Bailey, and the two of them really tear it up. P-Nut joins in and the jam is on! Watch Trujillo’s face as he feels the groove and really gets into it - you can’t help but notice that he positions his bass so the plucking takes place directly over his crotch. There can be no denying that this looks like some kind of stand-in manipulation of what lies behind the bass. Am I looking for trouble here? Not really, because who can deny that playing the bass can be a very sensual experience?

More conversation follows. What is the FUNK? How do you get it? How do you convey it. This segues into Sklar and Bailey turning it out in a powerful jam. Reznicek joins in after a bit. The great thing about jams is that anybody who feels the groove can just plug in and grab a chair.

Listening to the chatters talk about Graham’s invention of the slap technique is a history is one of the most coveted skills in the world of learning to play. Not everybody likes slap, or feels they need to learn it, but few can deny it is a playing method that took the bass to new heights in music.

After this chat, we get a real party from TM Stevens, Hellborg, Bailey, and P-Nut as they create the song that was used to open the documentary. Improv and groove, and bass. Ain’t no party like a Warwick party, ’cuz a Warwick party don’t stop!

We finish up with the chatters again, tying up the conversation with Graham telling how humbled he is that people study his work. Then the boys get together for some bass-ish acapella, which leads us out with more posed shots and horsing around near the bridge.

Oh, by the way... did I mention you don’t have to go out and buy this one to enjoy it? Warwick features the full documentary on YouTube! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

The Perfect Host

The Perfect Host - Movie Review

I don't know if I had any expectations when I watched this movie, but it turned out to slide quite easily into my "instant classic" category. It's so weird and kinky and strange that you can't help but stare at the screen with a cheeky grin on your face.

Without giving away more than is necessary, a guy is injured. His foot is bleeding and he's running (limping) through the streets, ostensibly to give the slip to whoever was responsible for his foot injury. He bangs on a local door and asks for help. After failing to gain access, he tries another house. But he needs an IN. He snoops through the mailbox and finds a piece of mail addressed to the homeowner.   Pretending to know the homeowner by way of the name and return address on the letter, he knocks on the door. He starts with a basic, "Hey, man. How are you?  So-and-so said to drop by and say hi." David Hyde Pierce turns out to be the homeowner, and he graciously invites the man inside. Any friend of So-and-so's is a friend of mine! He tells the injured man that he's preparing for a dinner party, but that he can stay until the guests arrive (very basic summary of the story).

From there in, the viewer is in for an outrageous ride straight down the tubes of madness! It's like being in the chute of a water slide, but there may or may not be a fun pool of splashy water at the end of the ride.

This is one of those movies where you CANNOT predict what will happen. When I watch a movie, I can usually go two or three steps ahead and start predicting what will happen. This one must have caught me off-guard, because it came right out of left field. It's cultish and clever, and oh, so over-the-top!

If you read the reviews or story line on IMBD (by clicking on the image above), you might spoil it for yourself, so proceed with caution. Your best bet is to rent/buy this one; just sit back and relax, and let it take you there! Yow!

I give it a full 8 stars out of 10.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Jeff Berlin's Low Standards

As a follow-up to our Thunder Row Review of "Low Standards", we were fortunate to have Jeff Berlin answer a few questions about the album.

JB: Thank you for giving me the chance to talk about my new CD.

TR: With so much to choose from for this album, what was left on the cutting room floor? Anything you regret not including in the collection?

JB: Everything that you hear is what I intended to record. I didn't leave anything on the cutting room floor. In fact, I kind of wish that I added another song or two.

TR: How did you choose these songs?

JB: I chose them because these songs are not typical of a standards-type CD. I like to play differently each time that I do a new CD. On "Low Standards", I think that this is about as different a CD that I have done. I like that.

TR: How was the album recorded? Was any of it done live with all of you in the studio together?

JB: Yes! Essentially, everything that you hear is live, including Richard Drexler's swapping of the acoustic bass for the piano during each tune. Richard is maybe the only player I know that is a virtuoso on both upright bass and piano. When I soloed, he played the acoustic bass and then he put it on the floor to walk to the piano to solo on it. I simply never heard of anyone else doing something like this. "Low Standards" never could have turned out the way that it did without Richard.

TR: How much does improv play in the recording of Standards? Do you enjoy straying from the straight and narrow of the accepted arrangements?

JB: As a sideman, it truly pleases me to provide what someone wants from me, in exactly the way that they hear it. As a leader, I take a much more centric position and try to go wherever the music leads me. This CD is all improvised, with a few rehearsed endings or sections that needed cohesion. I never just record without a plan in mind. And because I carry so much of the harmonic weight of each tune that we played, I practiced for a long time getting familiar with the tunes before we recorded them. It is only here, as a leader, that I take such liberties as a bassist.

TR: The album starts fast and lively, and ends on a more emotional, soft note. How important is the order of the songs in creating the feel of the project, and how did you choose this order?

JB: I swapped songs around for a little while, discussing with David Ruttenberg, the producer, what he thought about the order of the songs. This particular line-up seemed organically correct to both of us and so we opted for the list of songs in this order. But, I suppose that it could have gone in other directions. We just thought that a burning first tune might catch the listener's attention and so we put ESP first, trying out other combinations afterward.

TR: Tell us about working with Richard Drexler and Mike Clark. How long had you been planning the project and how did you get them interested?

JB: Richard and Mike are players with adventurous spirits. I've known Mike since the 1970's and Richard and I have worked together on my last 5 or 6 solo CD's and tours I have done with my own band. Their sense of creativity and the bravery to be spontaneous is evident on this CD. We all listened and responded to each other, and I believe that we have developed a sound that is our alone. This seems to happen with kindred spirits in music which the three of us seem to be.

Thanks to Jeff Berlin for answering our questions! This is an album with some real MOVES! Got yours yet?


© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Monday, 3 June 2013

Jeff Berlin - Bass and Basser

Album Review
Jeff Berlin
Low Standards
Genre - Jazz

What a trio! Imagine two bass guitars, a piano, and drums. Now, you might not think this adds up to being a trio, but acoustic bass player Richard Drexler doubles on piano. Drummer Mike Clark lays down the snazzy, sizzling rhythm that can, at times, sound like finger popping, or bacon frying in the pan. Drexler's bass runs through different moods: sometimes it's grouchy and aggressive, sometimes tame and smooth as silk. Sometimes he plays the bass like a piano, and sometimes he plays the piano like a bass.

Oh yeah, did I mention Jeff Berlin's in there, too? He plays the electric bass as a lead instrument, and I swear you've never heard such versatility from an instrument normally thought of as a thunder maker.

You've heard the expression, “easy on the eyes” to indicate something that doesn’t take a lot of work to enjoy. This album is easy on the ears. The arrangements are complex, and the listener really has to know their Jazz, but if you sit back and free yourself from the technicalities, it's just really good music. Toe tappers, melodies, and harmonies that, if you don't know a lot about the work of the composers, make you want to look into their music more deeply. Ahem - that would be me, by the way.

Here's the track lineup:

ESP, El Gaucho, and Fee Fi Fo Fum were composed by Wayne Shorter. Falling Grace was composed by Steve Swallow. Vashkar was composed by Carla Bley. Very Early was composed by Bill Evans. Whisper Not was composed by Benny Golson, and James was composed by Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny.

ESP has an acoustic bassline that doesn't so much walk as run. Splashy drums, dancing piano, and Berlin's lead bass - the man is all fingers. It’s so interesting to hear a bass as lead instrument, and another bass as - well - bass. Bass and Basser.

El Gaucho is melodic and fiery; the combination of acoustic and lead bass can fool you into thinking it is one instrument - maybe something like an extended range bass. There's a bass/piano fill in the middle of the song that is to die for!

Falling Grace - the strings on the acoustic bass rattle on the fretboard, creating a wonderful percussive tone. Berlin's smooth lead sings the melody with a range of voices and harmonies that more than do justice to the instrument, and leave your eyes wide with awe at the skill of his musicianship. What I really like about this song is that when the piano takes over for the acoustic bass, it speaks in the same voice. It's an interesting aural experience; it sounds like Drexler's playing the bass on a piano. Add to that the light touch of Clark’s drums and this becomes a special favourite of mine.

Fee Fi Fo Fum features a drumbeat that sounds like a rolling tongue - and sometimes like the popping fingers I mentioned earlier. Berlin's bass sounds more like a lead guitar in places. About three quarters of the way in, there's an indescribable intricacy of tone and space as the men jam together - bass, bass, and drums.

Vashkar is an exotic piano-led piece. Drexler’s playing evokes a moody, atmospheric sensation. And again, we experience the mastery of Berlin's playing. As with every song on the album, he knows his notes, and exactly where they belong. To trained Jazz musicians, this might sound like an amateurish thing to say, but to these ears, his skill is appreciated by how the music reaches heart and soul.

The Bill Evans song, Very Early, features Berlin's bass singing both high and low. I see this song as somewhat of a competition between musicians; Berlin fills the spaces first, forcing his compatriots to find the gaps. Like a challenge. At times, his bass sounds almost twangy or Western, like a Nashville Telecaster. I'd sure like to know if anybody else hears that, too!

Whisper Not is smooth and harmonic. It is rhythmic and more recognisable in its form. I found Clark's drums to be playful and teasing, and, once again, I love the sound of those barking strings on the acoustic bass.

James turns out to be my favourite song on the album. It has a lovely piano opening, a warm melody, and the full range of bass emotions. It sounds like Berlin really went inside for this one; a very moving song.

Low Standards is described as being a collection of lesser known Jazz standards, so it’s a perfect opportunity to educate oneself on the beautiful music that lies beneath the surface from the more famous big brothers on the top of the heap. I liked the album very much and would easily recommend it to anybody who enjoys, or wants to start enjoying Jeff Berlin.

Jeff Berlin Online

The album is available everywhere!

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Monday, 6 May 2013

Can You Be A Kick-Starter?

David Crossman, author of the popular "Bean & Ab Mysteries", is about to undertake a very exciting project.  His novel, "Secret of the Missing Grave, is destined for the silver screen, as he and his team of professionals bring the story to life!

When I first heard the details of the project, what I really liked was the fact that they specified it wasn't going to be all pumped up with effects and computer generated monsters.  I've always thought that modern movies rely too much on technology and not enough on story.  Crossman and Crew are hoping to change that with a movie that is about characters, friendship, and facing fear together; in stories that appeal to young people, this is far more important than dazzling the eye with lots of shiny things and bling that end up doing nothing for the heart.  I think people would love a good, scary mystery that works the mind and keeps them on the edges of their seats!

Here's what Crossman has to say about the project:

"So, it's 1920 and a guy named Walt Disney comes to you and says: 'How'd you like to invest in an animated mouse?' Well, I'm looking for the kind of person who would have answered with a resounding 'Absolutely!'

"I hope that some time over the last decade or so you've taken the opportunity to read at least one of the books in my Bean and Ab adventure series for young adults. We have, just this minute, launched, via KickStarter, an effort to raise funding for the production of a full-length feature film.  First on our list, The Secret of the Missing Grave, is something we hope to get into production in the summer of 2014."

KickStarter is a web based venture that allows creative possibilities to reach you and me - the public.  We are the ones who know what we like in art, whether movies, music, books, or other creative fields.  But we usually have to take what's out there, without too much say.  KickStarter allows people to have a voice in the types of (in this case) movies that get made.  The idea is that we are invited to help these projects get off the ground by aiding in the funding.

Crossman asks:

"Please take a moment to review the particulars, which you will find at the link below, and, if you believe, as I do, that there is a need for exciting entertainment that the whole family can enjoy together, contribute whatever you can - from $1 to a million - to our production fund. We only have 60 days to raise the full amount, so pre-production can begin on schedule."

I ask everybody who reads this to take a look at the promo page for "The Secret of the Missing Grave", and to consider donating what you can to help get this worthy project off the ground.  Your kids will thank you for it, and that's thanks enough!

Pass the link on to your friends, post on Facebook and Twitter, MySpace, Twitless, TwitFace, YourSpace, OurSpace, TheirSpace, OuterSpace, etc., etc. and let's get things going!!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Zander Zon And Saturn Return

Album Review
Zander Zon - Saturn Return
Genre - Bass

An album like Saturn Return allows the listener to immerse completely into the music and decide what moves them the most, based on personal experience. If the music takes you to a sad place, you will feel it differently to someone whose reminders trigger happy memories.

The absence of lyrics deepens the personal experience - there are no words to direct you. Remember Depeche Mode’s song, “Enjoy The Silence”? A couple of the lines in that song have always struck me as important:

“Words, like violence, break the silence. Come crashing in, into my little world.”

And later in the song:

“Feelings are intense; words are trivial. Pleasures remain; so does the pain. Words are meaningless and forgettable.”

A little ironic that words are used to describe how words don’t mean anything when compared to feelings, but the point is that Zander Zon walks the talk. If words are truly meaningless, leave them aside and let the feelings speak. (Enjoy The Silence is one of my favourite DM songs, BTW, despite its betrayal of its own theme. It works perfectly in the video, though, so I forgive them).

Saturn Return is full bodied, rich, well rounded bass. Real tunes. It’s not just aimless sampling or study. Each piece means something in the bigger picture. Yet there remains an element of rondo to highlight the particular styles. Repeating themes to imprint the message in your mind.

If you like Leonard Cohen, you might see a similarity in musical purpose. Cohen is a poet who puts his verse to music. He doesn’t always create “songs”, but rather mood music to give his message more depth. I see Zander Zon in a similar vein, but without the audible verse. His songs are “mood music” to life, and in this case, to the Saturn Return. He thinks of an event, experience, place, or person, and gives it meaning through the bass (and other effects and instruments). The fact that he uses piccolo strings (and alternate tunings) gives the atmosphere a gentler touch than a regular bass sound. As Pink Floyd might call it: “The Delicate Sound Of Thunder.” You can still hear the deep resonance, but it’s not as threatening as the boomers that loom overhead. The harmonics and chording are nothing short of jaw-dropping; I am sorely unqualified to address the true musicianship of this project. How it makes me feel is enough. Quite enough, indeed.

It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite song; each one touches a different place in the soul.

October Starlight features deep, rhythmic undertones, layered over with melodic chords and harmonies. This is the first one that made me think of Cohen, particularly his instrumental, “Tacoma Trailer”.

Chimes is both melodic and percussive. Very musical and well rounded.

A Whisper In Time is the best song on the album, by far. So heartfelt. If you think of the title, “Saturn Return”, and it’s meaning (*see below), this song makes you look to the sky, the Universe, to God - wherever you look for your answers - and give a brief moment to that cause. Gorgeous work. The electric cello makes an appearance here and gives the song a true crying voice.

Heartbeat Lyrics - the bass has that pulse that beats, then slows, and relaxes you. It really works. But what are the “lyrics”? What does your heart say to you? In music? What is said to you when listening to someone else’s heart?

Elements is a mysterious, almost Latin sounding tune (strummed). Very introspective.

Oracles Of Her is a more intense song with effects and a bass that, at times, sounds almost like a Spanish guitar. Further into the song, you hear familiar deep, thumping bass beats that give it its heavy tone.

Canon In D - the Pachelbel classic we know and love, done up Zon style. Very moving, especially about three minutes in. Ever hear a bass sound like a mandolin? Fast fingers.

Kinetic reminds me of something, but I can’t find it in my memory locker. The range from high to low sounds and the harmonies trigger something not quite close enough to grab. Very forceful, strong-willed piece.

Music Box is beyond belief in its diversity. There’s a hint of electric piano to give the bass some counter-balance.

Constellation finishes the album, and the theme, with an eye toward Space. Where to next? When Saturn returns again, where will I be? Another melody of introspection. Very moving thunder, just below the surface.

All in all, Saturn Return is a deeply moving, emotional album that saturates your ears with a multitude of bass sounds both high and low. Very satisfying to the heart - highly recommended.

From Wikipedia:

"In astrology, especially horoscopic astrology the Saturn return is an astrological transit when a transiting Saturn planet returns to the same point in the sky that it occupied at the moment of a person's birth (natal chart). In Hindu astrology, it is known as Saade saati, as the transit in a birth chart and takes approximately 7.5 years to complete. It is an alleged phenomenon which is described as influencing a person's life development at 27 to 29 or 30-year intervals. These intervals or "returns" coincide with the approximate time it takes the planet Saturn to make one orbit around the sun, i.e. 29.4 years. It is believed by astrologers that, as Saturn "returns" to the degree in its orbit occupied at the time of birth, a person crosses over a major threshold and enters the next stage of life. With the first Saturn return, a person leaves youth behind and enters adulthood. With the second return, maturity. And with the third and usually final return, a person enters wise old age. These periods are estimated to occur at roughly the ages of 28-31, 56-60 and 84-90. A fourth return occurs for only a few people, at age 114-118."

Used a lot in music, it is usually themed to express a phase of completion or transition of/from one phase of life to the next.

To read a very in-depth, technical analysis on this album, check out this piece on

To calculate your own Saturn Return schedule, click HERE.

And don't forget to visit Zander Zon online.

© 2013 C.L. Seamus for Thunder Row

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

SeLKA - Bass Transformed

Just a little while ago, a member joined Thunder Row and submitted some promo material for a Netherlands Bassist named Franz SeLKA. Based on the samples, I decided to have a go with his album, Transformation, and I must say that I am impressed. I've always had an ear for the experimental, and this album explores some of the best the bass has to offer. From sweeping fretless passages to some very creative Avant-garde jams, this collection soars and grabs you by the ear to pull you into the experience.

Album Review
Genre: Fusion/Abient/Prog

Franz SeLKA is a remarkably skilled bassist who makes use of modern technology to bring his brand of fusion to - in my opinion - a younger audience. But even if you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to your jazz flavour, I recommend giving this band a try; you will be surprised... and quite pleasantly so.

First off, how about a brief BIO, from his CD Baby page.

"Bass player, composer and sound designer. Studied and performed music since early ages. Full scholarship BA student, graduated from IBU with honors in performance and composition. Academic studies and performances with Aydin Esen, Ilhan Usmanbas, Butch Morris, Kurt Weiss, Ricky Ford and others. Advance studies with Aydin Esen in composition and electronics.

Debut album "SeLKA xyz" is recorded in Paris/Amsterdam/Istanbul and featuring: Aydin Esen, Gary Husband, Owen Hart, Jr. and Volkan Oktem.

SeLKA is foremost a recording musician. Formally trained in the jazz tradition, SeLKA is a bass player; his technique, the best of what his generation offers. He is a composer, a sound designer producing original work. His priority while performing is the entertainment of his audiences usually by staying on the cutting edge, frequently presenting new material.

His popularity in the Europe music scene however, comes firstly from his unpredictable yet down to earth demeanor on and off stage. Throughout his career, SeLKA has partnered with renowned pianist Aydin Esen with whom he has been regularly playing, recording and touring around the world. His other collaborations and performances include the likes of Wolfgang Muthspiel, Gene Jackson, Gary Husband, Butch Morris, Ricky Ford, Owen Hart, Jr. Bilal Karaman, and Volkan Oktem, among several others."

Though the styles are different, the album sort of reminds me of an old 1976 Gino Vannelli album called “The Gist Of The Gemini” (another fantastic foray into the world of the experimental). Gino’s brother, Joe, plays keyboard on that one, and makes use of synth pads in a similar fashion as are found on Transformations. Synth pads aren’t everybody’s cup of tea in music, but on SeLKA’s album, they accent the bass and lay down the carpet on which the thunder rolls.

The album consists of seven songs; the time runs just under thirty five minutes.

01 - Reel
02 - Love Spell
03 - Gaius
04 - May I (Alt Take)
05 - X-Zone
06 - Dream On
07 - Sense

The great thing about this album, bass-wise, is that all the other instruments and sounds are in such different registers, that when that fretless talks, you clearly recognise it as the most powerful sensation of the whole album. That’s not to say that the higher registers don’t fill their own spaces nicely, but the people who put TRANSFORMATION together did so with skill, and the understanding that we’re talkin’ BASS here.

REEL, GAIUS, MAY I, and X-ZONE are livelier jams, full of excellent improv-style, free-form bass expressions and some very interesting effects and electronics. MAY I is the one whose synth reminded me a lot of Joe Vannelli’s playing on THE GIST OF THE GEMINI. And the bass is soft and sinister under it all. X-ZONE features some interesting synthetic vocal effects as well.

LOVE SPELL, the longest track at just over eight minutes, is a style unto itself, and ranks as my fave on the whole project. The intro alone made me shiver. The body of the song features some bass sounds that will take your breath away. Nice keyboards, too. The piano and bass jam that happens about two-thirds of the way through is slick and infectious.

DREAM ON is a true bass-lover’s delight. Mwah to your heart’s content, friends.

SENSE, the album’s closer, is soft and sweet, a showcase of SeLKA’s talent as a bassist. The range of mood on his playing is introspective and outrageously good.

I’m glad these folks introduced me to their music; I can add TRANSFORMATIONS to my list of quality projects, to be listened to on a regular basis.

Give it a try; I think you'll be seduced by the skill and range of this bass player!

Available on CD Baby, iTunes, and other download stores.

And don't forget to check out his YOU TUBE CHANNEL.

Good work, Brother! Glad to have you with us on Thunder Row!

Album Participation:

AYDIN ESEN: Piano, keyboards, live electronics, and programming
SeLKA: Electric basses, synthetic basses and programming
Guest artists: RANDY K: Voice; BILAL KARAMAN: Guitar; DMITRY GELFLAND: Speech

© 2013 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Larry Graham - Still Got It!

Album Review
Larry Graham and Graham Central Station's RAISE UP
Genre: Funk

Larry Graham and Co. had been rehearsing this album for a long time in their stage-shows, and it finally seemed as if the moment was exactly right to lay down the tracks in the studio.  With the exception of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and Al Green's "Ain't No Fun To Me", all tracks were composed by Graham, which shows the man is truly not ready to call it a day.  You can tell just by listening to this album that the arrangements are all based on the feel of a live show; this is why I continue to love GCS - every song is a party, and I'm always invited. Even the more introverted songs are stories made to be told to a live audience.

The songs have all been beefed up for the new age, yet continue to maintain all the grooves that make (and have always made) Larry Graham such a powerhouse in funk. In every song lay the roots of 70s funk; Graham re-invented bass for the 70s, and brings that feeling with him every time he picks up the white earthquake-maker. All the new recording and sound technology is well incorporated into the production, but you never forget the true meaning of GCS: to make the listener happy.

Ten-HUT! The album opens with the infectious, foot-stomping GCS DRUMLINE. No bass, but all the rhythm you can handle! The snares are played by Graham, Brian Braziel, Wilton Rabb, and David Council. James McKinney handles the cymbals, and when Ashling Cole hits the whistle, you know you're marching into the funkiest thunder ride you'll ever take!

The drumline leads into THROW N DOWN THE FUNK, a raunchy, horn laden (The Millfield Horns) slap-bass groove that's become a staple at GCS live performances. Plus, it features the "each musician introduces him/herself and shows off the chops" thing that originally hooked me in Sly & The Family Stone's DANCE TO THE MUSIC. Back then, when I heard Graham say "I'm gonna add some bottom, so that the dancers just won't hide" I almost jumped out of my chair when that bassline hit the air! Larry Graham officially became my hero that day, and I was only eight or nine years old!

On THROW N DOWN THE FUNK, when he says "They call me Graham as in 'Graham Central Station'. Let's spread the love to all peoples, tribes, and nations", it doesn't have quite the same effect as "I'm gonna add some bottom", but his voice is still powerful, and his bass still gets my can out of the chair... y'all.

IT'S ALRIGHT is as great as it's always been. I picture the band members doing that unified four-left and four-right step across the stage as they play. The bass groove in the middle of the song is thunderous and heavy, and is (in my usual opinion) the highlight of the track.

Prince joins the party (guitar, drums, keyboard, vocals) on RAISE UP, a monstrous, spiritual testimonial that doesn't need the likes of me to describe its emotional power. The words are significant and current to today's world, but it's the music that tells the message. Graham's baritone thunders beneath Prince's high falsetto, and it works so big and bad. Wow.

SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA is Graham and Prince again, all mellowed out for the first slow-dance of the party. Though Graham's bass drives the song from underneath, his voice drives from the surface. This is the sweaty, up-close and personal kind of song we all danced to in high school.

WELCOME 2 OUR WORLD is an infectious acapella minute (actually, a minute and two seconds). There's a lot of flavour in those voices. Learn the parts one by one and sing them all as you play the song over and over. Or get four other friends together and make it a challenge.

Taking another one from the vaults, IT AIN'T NO FUN TO ME is the old Al Green tune that GCS did up in the 70s as part of their debut album. Better than ever, newly mastered, and just as funky... maybe even a bit more. I love the horns. I don't know if others will feel it, but I get kind of a James Brown vibe off this one.

Get ready for GCS' version of Stevie Wonder's HIGHER GROUND. It's not just a cover; GCS brings a whole 'nother feel altogether to this one. Wonder's version is the king, and rightly so, with its straight forward driving delivery, but this version features more levels and directions. It's more involved and three-dimensional. Ashling Cole on lead vocals has complete control of herself; she's no weakling. She can't be to sing this one.

NO WAY is a moody, sensual, but slightly angry tune. He sings of promise that he will never hurt her, never do her wrong or make her cry, but to these ears, it almost sounds like an apology after these things have already been done.

I love HOLD YOU CLOSE, the second ballad of this funk opera, more than the intense SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA. This is just a beautiful love song. You can slow-dance or sit this one out and just watch the couples on the dance floor. Just stand off to the side and enjoy. Remember Johnny Mathis singing TWELFTH OF NEVER? This one's in the same vein.  Graham plays both the bass and keyboard on this one, with Mario Dawson on drums.

MOVIN features Prince again and also more of those tasty "featured instrument" sections. Let me hear your organ. Can I hear your guitar? Can you make the keyboard move me on? (great boogie woogie, by the way) and I'ma make the bassman move you on. (tech enhanced). Too cool.

By now, we're ready for another remastered GCS tune from "back then." DO YOU WANTA DANCE puts Graham on both bass and the "talk-box". The beat of this song is grinding and slow, just the way I like all my funk.

The album ends with ONE DAY, a final message of hope (with guest guitarist/vocalist Raphael Saadiq) . It's a real "resolution" song. If an album is well-staged, it starts with a promise and ends with a resolution. Whether a happy or sad one, the closing song must wrap things up. This is a perfect resolution song.

All in all, I think that - even though it's classified as funk - RAISE UP is a concept album. Each song is a funky gem unto itself, and can be enjoyed solely for beats and grooves, but the whole concept of overcoming adversity is the theme. Here's what Larry Graham says about it:

“The music on this album is like a live performance. I wanted to tell a complete story, with a great beginning, a powerful body and a dynamic conclusion. I want that story to be uplifting and encouraging, something to help people rise above whatever challenges they’re facing in life - whether it be personal issues or family issues or work issues. Everybody’s dealing with something. I want this music to help raise people up and enable them to overcome adversity.”

© 2012 CL Seamus for Thunder Row