Nathan East's Fiery Solo Return

April 7, 2017

Even though Nathan East didn’t rev up his solo career until 2014, with his Grammynominated self-titled debut, it seems like he has flashed solo-artist potential since cracking the session and touring scene in the early ’80s, with his melodic, vocally phrased bass lines and scat-and-play solos. Then, of course, there’s his 1991 “Easy Lover” collaboration with Phil Collins and Philip Bailey, and 25 years of writing, singing, and playing with Fourplay. In 2015 East released The New Cool, his upright-minded duet disc with Bob James—but now he’s back with his sophomore side, Reverence. Building on the strings-and-horn-infused R&B/jazz sound of his debut, the 12-track disc boasts Collins, Bailey, Verdine White, Eric Clapton, Chick Corea, Yolonda Adams, Ruben Studdard, Hubert Laws, and more. Offers a grateful Nate, “In an era when everyone is cutting budgets and using synthesized strings and horns, it’s nice when your label tells you to get the guest artists you want and encourages you to use real strings and horns to make the music as big as you envision.”

How did Reverence come together and get its name?

We had recorded 25 songs for my first album, so we knew we had some gems that would enable us to hit the ground running this time out. We used three of those tracks and cut nine more songs, and then it was time to start pondering a title. That came from thinking about all the greats we lost in 2016, like Maurice White, Prince, Toots Thielemans, Victor Bailey, Rod Temperton, David Bowie—it seemed relentless. So I thought, we’ve got to pay reverence to those who have gone before us and also appreciate those who are still here.

Your opening instrumental cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Love’s Holiday” sets the funky pace.

I wanted to pay tribute to Maurice White, who was a friend and mentor, and this was a song I used to sing in my local band growing up. Here, I play the melody, but I thought it would be nice to bring the authentic EWF spirit to the track, and Philip Bailey was kind enough to come in and recreate his famous vocal ad libs at the end. Greg Phillinganes and I also worked in the nod to “Can’t Hide Love” in the outro.

“Lifecycle” features extensive bass stretching over a well-developed composition.

I wrote that with Tom Keane, whom I share a studio with. We also co-wrote the album’s big band track, “The Mood I’m In.” Tom is terrific; he works with David Foster and many others, and he cowrote Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” and Chicago’s “Will You Still Love Me.” I wanted a song that reflected where I’m at musically, including a section with Metheny-esque wordless vocals, which I love. The good news is it has become my first #1 single on the Smooth Jazz charts.

When it came to bass solos on the record, I tried to approach them like they were songs within the song. I worked on creating memorable passages and phrases, almost like a written solo. As bassists, we don’t get as many blowing opportunities as guitarists, keyboardists, and horn players, so we have to make every note count.

Chuck Loeb contributed “Sevenate” to your first album, and here he provides and plays on “Elevenate.”

Chuck is a brilliant, clever, intuitive musician. He knew I had started the album, and the song showed up one day. I gave it a listen and went, Yup, that’s going on! Both Chuck and I love how Pat Metheny writes in odd and shifting meters, but it doesn’t occur to you at first because the melody is so strong. Teddy Campbell is the key here, because it’s the drummer who lets you play these kinds of songs without it sounding like you’re counting.

What’s the story behind the star-studded “Serpentine Fire,” and how did Verdine White figure in?

That was an arrangement my brother Marcel and I came up with in 1991, when we were attempting to start a band called Two Faces Of East. I was working with Phil Collins and Eric Clapton at the time, so we brought the song over to London, and they were kind enough to play on it, along with Phil’s Vine Street Horns. The band never got off the ground due to our schedules, and we kind of forgot about it until my engineer, Moogie Canazio—who had mixed it—pulled it up one day in the studio, and my producer, Chris Gero, loved it. To update it, we were able to get Verdine, Philip Bailey, and Ralph Johnson to come in. Verdine played to the track a few times and put his spirit all over it, and then we picked out some of the magic moments and inserted them amid my bass part. So the bass line is a cool mash-up of our ideas.

Your cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” is full of heady harmony, including your cool use of Jaco’s Eb7#9 chordal harmonic.

Jaco sure left a lot of meat on the bone for the rest of us to chew on. That harmonic chord is the exact tonality of the tune. We had already been having fun playing the song at live shows, so I thought, why not record it? Moogie Canazio had the idea for me to shadow my melody up an octave with my 6-string, and I thought it would be cool to quote “Master Blaster” at the end. As for the reharms here and throughout the album, that’s why I surround myself with keyboard genuises like Jeff Babko, Tim Carmon, and Dave Delhomme. They try all kinds of brilliant ideas, and I go, Whoa, what’s that? Okay, I need that!

“Shadow” is also outside the box harmonically and features Chick Corea.

That started as a song idea by Lendell Black, a great Nashville composer/arranger who did the orchestral arrangements on both of my albums. Chris Gero and I collaborated on it with him, and I sent it to Chick, who loved it. I first met Chick while recording “Ravel’s Bolero” from Hubert Laws’ Family album [1980, Columbia], but we hadn’t played together in the 35 years since. I went to see him during his historic 75th Birthday Blue Note run in New York, and he found the time to lay down his track. He also asked me to sub for John Patitucci on some Elektric Band dates this year. I’ve been sweating trying to get those tunes under my belt!

“Pasan” and the solo closer, “Until We Meet Again,” feature your fretless playing.

“Pasan” is by the amazing Argentinian band the Aca Seca Trio. I got turned on to them by Chuck and Bob James. They’re great players and singers, but the virtuosity is in the writing. The original had fretless on it, so that’s the way I went. “Until We Meet Again” is an odd story: The day Toots Thielemans passed away, both my 6-string and my fretless—a Yamaha BB5000 that I had pulled the frets out of—went down with pot trouble while we were in the studio. I frantically sent them over to Yamaha, which is close by, and thankfully in a couple of hours they had them serviced and returned. So I was trying out the 6-string, playing arpeggios. Moogie heard me and hit record. I listened back and got a support part together, and then I played the fretless over it, thinking of Toots, and eventually I came up with the melody.

INFO

LISTEN
Reverence [2017, Yamaha]; The New Cool [2015, Yamaha] Nathan East [2014, Yamaha], Eric Clapton, Slowhand at 70: Live [2015, Eagle Rock]; Fourplay, Silver [2015, Heads Up]

EQUIP
Basses Two Yamaha Signature BBNE2 5-strings (tuned B–G and E–C); fretless Yamaha BB5000; Yamaha TRB6; Yamaha Silent Bass SLB200LTD w/French-style bow
Strings Dunlop Stainless Steel and Nickel Medium-Gauge Super Brights (.030, .045, .065, .085, .105, .130)
Rig TC Electronic Blacksmith head, two RS410 cabinets
Effects TC Electronic Ditto Looper, Flashback Delay, Corona Chorus, PolyTune Mini; MXR M87 Bass Compressor Future Sonics Spectrum Series G10 in-ear monitors, Klotz cables
Recording Reverence Radial Firefly Tube Direct Box direct to Pro Tools and two different miked signals from TC Electronic rig

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