When it comes to bass role models, we thumpers are fortunate to have John Patitucci. His firm grasp of jazz and myriad other styles is matched by his equally firm grip on both fretboard and fingerboard. Add inherent creativity and curiosity to the mix, and we’re talking about a forefront musician. This breadth is wholly evident in John’s 13th solo effort, Remembrance. The intimate, 11-track disc is a noble nod to the greats who preceded him via one of the boldest outposts in jazz: the sax-bass-drums (read: piano-less) trio. In truth, the setting—here with sax titan Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade—plays right into Patitucci’s penchant for contrapuntal writing and his ongoing quest to establish the 6-string bass guitar in the traditional acoustic jazz realm.
The Brooklyn-born Patitucci (December 22, 1959) made his initial mark on the left coast, before returning east in 1996. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he started playing electric bass at age 10, adding upright at 15. John arrived in L.A. in 1978 and worked his way to the top of the jazz and session scenes. In 1985, he began his long association with Chick Corea, joining the pianist’s Elektric Band. Two years later, he released his self-titled solo debut. Since resettling in New York, Patitucci has fit his in-demand status as a doubler, commissioned composer, and City College faculty member around his solo career and his nine-year role in Wayne Shorter’s quartet.
What led you to make this kind of trio record?
The idea came eight years ago, while I was working on my CD Communion. Our pianist couldn’t make a rehearsal, so Joe, Brian, and I did it as a trio, and it was a revelation; it was so organic and open. Not having chord changes was unproblematic, because those guys play so strongly and musically. I knew at that point I wanted to make a trio album with them, but I was probably put off by the landmark albums using the same instrumentation, like Sonny Rollins’s Freedom Suite [1958, Riverside] and Joe Henderson’s The State of the Tenor, Vols. 1 & 2 [1985, Blue Note]. Subconciously, I think I was trying to bide time and get better before attempting it! Finally, I felt ready.
What do you like about a piano-less trio, and how does it make you play differently?
I like the counterpoint between the three voices, and the clarity you have to exude in your playing. It also makes the instruments sound bigger, because without piano there’s much more room in the sonic spectrum— you can get some great bass sounds. Then there’s the art of using space and not worrying about having to fill everything up, or giving the illusion of more instruments; if you let the space be, it makes the music deeper. Sure, I play differently, but with Joe and Brian I don’t feel any additional responsibility to provide the harmony or the groove. I may have chosen to be a bit more declarative outlining the changes for some tunes, but part of the appeal is what’s not there. Plus, if you write well enough contrapuntally, and solo melodically and lyrically, everyone will be able hear the implied harmonies.
To what does the title refer?
It really has two meanings: Remembering and respecting all the greats who have passed, and recognizing and appreciating the ones who are still here. There’s also the idea of living in the present, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. When we play music, we have to be in the moment. Even at the highest levels, that’s what separates the men from the boys—those who are listening to everyone else in the ensemble and are not just focused on what they’re going to play. That’s where Wayne [Shorter] is king. He strives for group interaction and improvisation, or composing in the moment, as he calls it. We listen and leave space, and try to find new ideas instead of resorting to licks. With Wayne, it goes even beyond notes; ultimately, it’s about sound and time feel. You can have all the chops and harmonic knowledge, but if you don’t have a great sound and a great time feel, you won’t have the communicative facility to reach people.
DO YOU HEAR WHAT HE HEARS?
In pushing the musical and orchestrational boundaries of the piano-less trio on Remembrance, John Patitucci moves from sparse, suggestive upright to uniquely voiced 6-string chords. Example 1 contains the 6-string groove of “Messaien’s Gumbo,” with note choices derived from Messaien’s third Mode of Limited Transposition. Dig John’s expressive articulation and sliding vibratos. He offers, “Paul Jackson had a big impact on me growing up; he’s never far from my touch.” Equally expressive is Patitucci’s 6-string A-section groove from “Mali,” shown in Ex. 2. His glisses and openstring, ghost-note bounces breathe life into the West Africaninspired line, which has subtly different turnaround phrases. Example 3 shows the ethereal A-section upright groove from “Safari.” Although the implied harmony is Emaj7#11, John’s inclusion of the Gn in the line adds a minor, modal quality. Meanwhile, the five-eighth-note-phrase that starts on beat two and repeats on the “and” of beat four gives the line a nebulous time feel.
Back in 6-string mode, Ex. 4a features the first six bars of the “Meditations” melody, played by John and Joe Lovano. Think rubato on this angular ballad. Example 4b contains the song’s B section. With an open A pedal, and Lovano playing the top note on tenor, John rips out some Coltraneesque chords. He notes, “I didn’t analyze exactly what each chords is; I’m just moving down using the shape of a root, minor 3rd, and major 7th.”
Electric basses Yamaha signature 6-string (35” scale); signature six strung as a piccolo bass; Yamaha J-style 5-string; D’Addario Half Rounds, D’Addario XL Chromes flatwounds on the five
Acoustic basses Vuillaume (circa 1860, u-size, low C extension); 50- year-old Pöllmann (strung ADGC); Thomas Martin 40"; Daniel Navea Vera French-style bow; Pirastro Evah Pirazzi and Oliv strings; Gage Realist pickup, DPA 4099 mic, Schertler A-DYN-SET transducer
Rig Aguilar AG 500 head with GS 410 cab, Euphonic Audio iAMP Doubler for upright
Recording Remembrance Aguilar DB 680 DI, miked Aguilar rig, Neumann U 67 or U 87 mics
HEAR HIM ON
John Patitucci, Remembrance [2009, Concord]; Edward Simon, Poesia [2009, Cam- Jazz]; Jack DeJohnette, Music We Are [2009, Kindred Rhythm]; Adam Rogers, Sight [2009, Criss Cross]; Ralph Bowen, Dedicated [2009, Positone]
“Monk/Trane” I wanted to combine a Monk-style offbeat melody over “Giant Steps” changes at a slower tempo, because those two cats [Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane] were very tight. Trane said Monk was a musical architect of the highest order.
“Messaien’s Gumbo” My musical mentor growing up, Chris Poehler, sent me Messaien’s seven Modes of Limited Transposition. The third one caught my ear; it’s basically an augmented scale divided into three groups of four notes: C-D-Eb-E, E-F#-GG#, Ab-Bb-B-C. I wrote down all the major and minor triads from the scale and then inverted and connected them to come up with this melody. I thought it would work well with the 6-string in a funky setting, with Brian providing one of his New Orleans-ish feels that’s both straight and swinging at the same time.
“Sonny Side” My nod to Sonny Rollins, based on the changes to “Sunny Side of the Street,” which he recorded with Dizzy Gillespie on Sonny Side Up [Verve, 1957]. I tried to capture Sonny’s style in the melody line, and Joe emulates his big tone and laid-back phrasing.
“Meditations” I was going for ECM-style melodic jazz, like the band Joe had with Bill Frisell and Paul Motian, where there’s one chord instrument, a horn, and a very creative drummer. I thought it would be interesting to use the six and just be the chordal guy. I play the chord melody and then I comp for Joe and Brian.
“Mali” My West African tune; I first got into African music in the ’80s through Selif Keita’s amazing album, Soro [Mango, 1987]; I seem to connect with it naturally. The melody here is in Selif’s singsong style, with rapid rhythmic explosions that are hard to notate, but Joe totally got the vibe.
“Scenes From an Opera” I wanted to break up the trio sound with different colors. In Verdi’s opera, Otello, there’s a brooding bass section feature right before he commits murder. That was the inspiration for me to begin with the bow playing an ominous, dramatic melody and then have Joe play in counterpoint on alto clarinet. I’d also written two interludes for string octet, which my wife Sachi and I overdubbed on cello and bass. I ended up using them here behind Joe’s and Brian’s solos.
“Blues for Freddie” I played with Freddie Hubbard a bunch in L.A. in the early ’80s, and he was always on fire—he used to call me “Brooklyn.” He was the Trane of the trumpet and this melody reminded me of him.
“Safari” An E major/minor sort of modal piece in four, although it sounds like an odd meter because of the way the bass line turns around. I wrote it in South America while touring with John Scofeld. It has an A and B section, and a bit of a Middle Eastern vibe.
“Joe Hen” For Joe Henderson. I almost got to play with him twice—once in a trio with Al Foster—but I had conflicts. This is an F minor blues with very Henderson-like changes: II-V’s that take you all around in unusual ways.
“Play Ball” This has the flavor of a bluesy standard, and as I wrote it, it felt like a dedication to Ray Brown. But when I hear my solo it reminds me of how much I was into Charles Mingus when I was younger. David Baker, whom I met when I was 15, told me, “You sound like you have some Mingus in your soul.”
“Remembrance” My tribute to Michael Brecker. I was changing my strings at home and as I was tuning them up to pitch a fournote arpeggio rang out that grabbed my ear, so it started working with it. Basically, I’m leaving the open G string droning and playing different shapes on the C and D strings. I wrote out a chord sequence that was haunting and sort of captured how I feel about Mike—plus I could hear him blowing over it. I did three tracks, the first is the chords played on my piccolo 6- string, the second doubles that on regular 6, for a 12-string guitar- type sound, and the third is me improvising over the top.