As a fixture with the Who and John Mayer, Pino Palladino’s public profile has never been higher. For hardcore bass fans, however, his mini U.S. tour and newly recorded music with PSP—Palladino’s super trio with drummer Simon Phillips and keyboardist Philippe Saisse—has significant sonic subtext. For one, PSP marks Pino’s return in large part to his trademark fretless Music Man (now sporting Rocco Prestia’s signature aside the bridge). For another, the music is über-challening, both recalling and covering the odd-meter ooze and funky groove that reigned in ’70s fusion. At their first performance on U.S. soil (and first gig in a year)—an intimate club setting in picturesque New Hope, Pennsylvania—the trio hit a bump out of the gate: Pino’s amp went missing for the first song, due to a wrong cable connection. This was quickly set right by a hairpin turn through Return To Forever’s “Vulcan Worlds.” By the time the band eased into Pino’s Headhunters-nodding “What’s Wrong With You,” the magic between these three masters had permeated the rapt crowd. An hour later, following an encore of “Chameleon” and Phillips’s 15/8 workout “Indian Summer,” we sat down with Pino to get the lowdown on the trio, as well as where else his singular feel can be found in the months ahead.
How did PSP come together?
In 2009, I added bass to some tracks Simon played on for Philippe’s last album, and when Philippe heard the results he asked us to do some trio dates in Japan. We got together to rehearse in Simon and Philippe’s L.A. studio, and the chemistry between us was evident immediately. We were all born the same year—1957—and we all grew up on the same kinds of music. We did the Japanese tour and live CD, followed by a European tour, and now this U.S. run. For me, I’ve always loved the trio setting, like the John Mayer Trio, because of the space it affords each player.
How do you view your role in the band?
Well, Simon and Philippe have the “spaceships” on either side of me, taking care of all the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic details, so for me it’s a dream—all I have to do is play bass. I see my role as providing the groove and getting the odd meters to feel comfortable. That said, it’s absolutely kicking my butt. These guys are virtuosos who set the bar pretty high. I’m known mostly for backing singers; this is a new challenge for sure.
How do you develop your parts, and how do you deal with the odd-meter material?
Generally, I’m free to develop my parts around the basic ideas that are on Simon and Philippe’s demos. Harmonically, the notes are often set, so it’s more a matter of developing the part rhythmically and putting a feel to it. As for the odd-meter songs, I don’t really count while playing; I try to find at least one pulse that goes through the meter that I can stay on. I’m reasonably comfortable with my timing, but I do get lost at times. It’s easy to fall off—it’s getting back on that’s the hard part [laughs].
The band marks your return to fretless bass.
That came about because we were going to be doing Philippe’s hit, “Masques,” which I had originally recorded on fretless. I knew he’d never let me get away with playing a fretted bass live, and there were some other songs the fretless worked well on. I hadn’t been practicing or playing it much, which was a little scary, so I just threw myself in the deep end and brought it as the only bass for the Japanese tour and live CD. I figured, if I’m ever going to get out and play it well again, this was the way to do it.
How has the development of your style on fretted bass translated to the fretless?
On the touch side, I’ve been applying the fi ngerstyle technique I developed playing hip-hop on my P-Bass—where I pluck the E string with my thumb, the A with my index finger, the D with my middle finger, and the G with my ring finger, all while muting with my palm. Also, in the ’80s I was using a more midrange-heavy sound and playing legato in the middle and upper registers. Now I tend toward a deeper tone, while staying down in the business end of the instrument and adding more rhythmic interest.
What other key projects have you been involved in?
It was a real blast and an honor doing the last month of Herbie Hancock’s summer tour; he’s brilliant and ageless. I recorded Robbie Robertson’s new album, and I just did some tracks with James Gadson on drums for D’Angelo’s upcoming CD. I did a tour of Japan with Steve Jordan’s band, the Verbs, and an album he produced for a Dutch artist called Waylon. The Who is on hiatus for a while, but I’m in a band called the Gaddabouts, with Steve Gadd, Edie Brickell, and Andy Fairweather Low. Our CD just came out, and we have a show at Carnegie Hall in the spring. With PSP, we head to Europe next, and we’ll keep putting up new tracks on the site, with a return to the States hopefully soon.
HEAR HIM ON
PSP, Live [2011, Zoom]; The Gaddabouts, The Gaddabouts [2011, Racecar- Lotta]; Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer [2010, Elektra/Asylum]; Adele, 21 [2011, XL Recordings]; Robbie Robertson, How to Become Clairvoyant [2011, 429 Records]
Basses Fretless ’79 Music Man Sting- Ray; Fender Jaguar Bass (with Hipshot Xtender); fretless Jeff Finch custom 5-string
Rig Phil Jones M-300 head with 8T/16B cabinet; Raven Labs