Bunny Brunel and Stanley Clarke have been best bass buddies since meeting at the late-’70s wedding of Chick Corea’s manager. Back then, Clarke was amid his School Days-fueled solo glory, and Brunel was Chick’s new bass ace (thanks to keyboardist Patrick Moraz bringing Corea to see Bunny play with Tania Maria in London). Although the two have played together countless times, it has taken until now for them to team up on a project—one that serves as a stewardship of the instrument they helped revolutionize. Bass Ball sports a loaded lineup, with ten top bassists who field new and classic compositions by Brunel (on fretless, fretted, and piccolo 5-strings) and Clarke (on standard, tenor, and piccolo electrics, plus acoustic bass). “Slap & Tickle” boasts Victor Wooten, Hadrien Feraud, and drummer Dennis Chambers; “Lopsy Lu” is revisited with Steve Bailey, Billy Sheehan, and drummer Simon Phillips; “Stand Out” and “Nothing But the Bass” feature Armand Sabal-Lecco; and five of Brunel’s plucking pals from his native France, including the excellent Marc Bertaux, also appear. We asked Bunny about the big dance.
How did this project get started, and what was the concept?
The title came first, many years back from the late George Duke, who thought “Bass Ball” would be a good name for a bass project. About five years ago, Stanley and I began talking about making a bass-centric album that would feature other bassists, as well. The idea was to start out with our two basses and a rotating chair of great drummers, and then fill out the roles typically played by other instruments with additional bassists. Due to Stanley’s label obligations, we put out the record under my name.
You and Stanley have contrasting but complementary styles.
We have the experience to know how and when to support the other, and when to step forward. We were both fortunate to play with Miles Davis’ ’60s sidemen—Chick, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter—who all know that ultimately, if you make the whole band sound good, you sound good.
You also both have a gift for soloing outside of the changes.
We’re jazzers using classic chord substitutions in the tradition of Miles and John Coltrane—Stanley is a master of it. As I tell my students, on bass we have a distinct advantage over the trumpet, the sax, and even the piano in that we have a visual, geometric grid that we operate on. We can play a C major scale and move up a fret and play a C# major scale; that’s very complicated to do on other instruments. Whether you’re playing a scale, a pattern, or a melodic phrase, those kinds of half-step shifts will make you sound “out” in a hurry.
What’s next for you?
Stanley and I would like to take Bass Ball live, and the plan is to do a Bass Ball 2, with the bassists we couldn’t get in time for the first album—everyone from Marcus Miller to Federico Malaman. I’m also trying to get the original CAB back together, with Brian Auger; I borrowed some of Brian’s arrangement of “Freedom Jazz Dance” for our cover on Bass Ball. And I’m working on a new project with Patrick Moraz and Virgil Donati called iNow.
Bunny Brunel, Bass Ball [2017, Nikaia]
Basses ESP Bunny Brunel Signature LTD BB-1005 fretted and fretless; BB-1004 fretted and fretless; Bunny Brunel Electric Upright Bass; Carvin BB75 piccolo bass
Rig Eden EM275, EC 15, and TN 2251 combos
Strings La Bella M42 Hard Rockin’ Steels (.040, .060, .080, .100); La Bella 7720 Series Upright Bass
Other DigiTech pedals, ART preamps, Snap Jack cables