Beneath The Bassline

By Chris Jisi ,

Imagine getting to sit down with over 30 of your bass heroes, as well as key instrument and amp builders, to chat about the art and craft of the bass. That’s the essence of the enlightening 90-minute film Beneath the Bassline by iBass magazine editor Nick Wells. As he does with iBass [ibassmag.com], the U.K.-based Wells turns the camera onto his subjects, revealing much more than their words—a bit like the difference between seeing their bass lines notated versus hearing the inflections in those parts. The film features a spectrum of greats, from John Patitucci, Marcus Miller, Pino Palladino, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, Oteil Burbridge, and Rocco Prestia to Robert Trujillo, Duff McKagan, Billy Sheehan, Tim Commerford, and Gail Anne Dorsey. Also in the mix are young power-pluckers like Thundercat, Michael League, Felix Pastorius, and Adam Getgood, British greats Mark King, Paul Turner, and Laurence Cottle, and gear mavens such as Roger Sadowsky, Vinny Fodera, and Aguilar’s Dave Boonshoft. Collectively, they cover such topics as how they got into bass, key influences, bass line creation, tone and the specifics of their individual basses, finding your own sound and voice, career highpoints, and thoughts on Jaco and his impact (with Cottle breaking down “Continuum”).

Among the best-edited moments are when various players discuss slapping, and we arrive at Larry Graham talking about how he founded the technique. Or Christian McBride detailing his favorite James Brown period, with a segue to his hero, Bootsy Collins. And it’s great to have Lee Sklar’s “producer switch” story documented. There are two through-lines for the film: The first is rising English bass star Stefan Redtenbacher’s potent score, with his horn-infused Funkestra. (The movie’s soundtrack album also includes an original by Michael Manring, who appears in the film.) The second is Will Lee. Seen throughout, jamming with Richard Bona, Lee offers some of the meatiest insight, including the impact of the upright on the bass guitar, what it was like to play with James Brown on the Letterman show, what makes Ringo Starr a great drummer, Roger Sadowsky’s gift for adapting customer requests into his basses, turning a playing mistake into something cool, and why we should enjoy every gig. The sharing of knowledge with a smile is indeed the bottom line in this well-made celebration of the bass.