Consider the tenuous realm of multiple basses in music. To this point, brave subterranean-minded souls have sought such settings in all shapes and sizes, and most genres — be it chamber-written pieces, recordings with a host of bassists' parts flown in, or all-star jams at bass events. The outcomes have varied from deep rivers of rich vibrations to, as one top bassist put it, "Sounding like a herd of elephants trying to fit through a doorway at the same time." Now a just-released multi-bass record has raised the bar to reset levels for the entire concept.
The Art of the Bass Choir [Origin Records], by Lincoln Goines, is a revelation. The 16-track effort boasts such guests as Victor Wooten, John Patitucci, Matthew Garrison, Tom Kennedy, Mike Pope, and Mike Bendy, as well as drummers Dennis Chambers and Robby Ameen. It covers an array of styles ranging from jazz, funk, and Latin to classical, folk, and experimental. Most impressive, by taking an ensemble approach — even when multi-tracking himself — Goines has forged exciting new territory when it comes to the sonic, harmonic, and orchestration possibilities of bass plus more bass.
The venerable, versatile New York City doubler Goines, who has also been an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music since 2008, is best known for his recordings and road time with the likes of Gato Barbieri, Dave Valentin, Dave Grusin, Sonny Rollins, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Paquito D'Rivera, Michel Camilo, Dizzy Gillespie, Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Carly Simon, and Tania Maria. His 1993 book/DVD package Funkifying the Clave: Afro-Cuban Grooves for Bass and Drums [Alfred], co-written with drummer Robby Ameen, was a significant step forward for the bass guitar and its place in world music.
Growing up among seven siblings in his native Oakland, California, Goines studied piano and trumpet in grade school. Drawn to the sound of the bass whenever he heard records at home or on the radio, he switched to electric bass at age 15, getting a fretless Airship Guitars P/J-style instrument and drawing inspiration from Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, and John Paul Jones. Soon after, an interest in jazz sparked by hearing Miles Davis and John Coltrane led Lincoln to buy an acoustic bass in nearby Berkeley. When his family moved to Vancouver for his senior year in high school, he took lessons with symphonic bassists Sydney Keats and Gary Karr, as well as Eddie Gomez. His bold 1977 move all the way to New York City launched his stellar sideman career and planted the seeds for The Art of the Bass Choir, as he explains in our extensive interview. What led you at last to make a solo record?
It wasn't like there was a single spark, nor was it a lifelong goal. It was more like a confluence of things. I'd been gaining aptitude with my home studio gear, and having taught at Berklee since 2008 with a large body of students, I'd been creating and utilizing a good deal of bass ensemble material. But the main reason was the pandemic, where we were all stuck in our little spaces with nothing but time on our hands. I thought, I can do this. I sent some material to Robby Ameen to check out, and I started collaborating with Klaus Mueller, who is [Brazilian percussionist] Portinho's keyboardist. He helped me work out the voicings and arrangements. Before I knew it I had 25 pieces in an array of different styles.
How did you come up with the bass choir concept and record title?
When I was coming up in New York City in the late '70s, there was a group called the New York Bass Violin Choir, directed by Bill Lee, Spike Lee's dad. In addition to Bill it featured Ron Carter, Richard Davis, Milt Hinton, Sam Jones, and a few other bassists. I heard them and it was such a beautiful, fluid, perfectly imperfect, not-tempered-by-the-piano sound. It knocked my socks off, and that was the main inspiration to do a bass ensemble record, with no chordal instruments. I always had that sound in the back of my mind, and in the '80s I remember trying to start an electric bass choir with people like Mark Egan and the late Jeff Andrews, but it was tough to get a bunch of the top New York bassists together back then. Two other big influences were Eberhard Weber and his ECM albums, like The Colours of Chloë  — which had his layered basses and deep, transparent arrangements — and Steve Swallow, with his upper-register explorations. As for the album title, it was intuitive, and then I realized there are records named the art of the big band and the art of the trio. My wife Mika took the cover photo, which is a play on the Leonardo DaVinci drawing Vitruvian Man. The graphics were done by my webmaster, drummer Maciek Schejbal, and John Bishop, the owner of Origin Records, who was so supportive throughout the project.
How did you record the music, and what basses did you play?
I mostly recorded at home, and pretty much all of the guests flew in their parts [recorded tracks remotely]. That's when I got to apply my studio chops and my musical experience. I could manipulate things sonically, or if someone sent a solo they recorded against my rhythm-track comping, I might recut my comping track under their solo to make it sound like a more orchestrated piece. Bass-wise I played my Fodera signature Imperial Elite 5-string, which is a 34" scale; my 33" Fodera signature Imperial 5-string, which I tuned EADGC, for playing chords and some of the melodies; my fretless Fodera 5-string; and my 5/8 Italian acoustic bass. All of my electric basses have single pickups, which I find resonate with more clarity than dual-pickup basses.
What was the main challenge with layering and panning so many basses?
Probably the biggest one for me was how to get dynamics out of all the basses, which have a tendency to sound flat, sonically — like instruments did in the Baroque period. I had to build the dynamics into the music rhythmically or harmonically because there's only a certain amount of dynamic range I could create from the basses. So I'd have places with more space and then more density, for dramatic contrast. There was a lot of trial and error and reworking on some of the more complex arrangements, because I discovered that voicings and inversions that made sonic sense on the keyboard didn't necessarily have the right sonority in a multi-bass ensemble setting. I also worked with the engineers to not compress and process too much. We made sure not to boost any bass frequencies, because that compounds and gets very muddy. And we used a minimal amount of reverb so all of the expression and the sound of the wood and the metal strings would come out and breathe.
For panning, which I used on every track, I consulted with Steve [Bailey] and Victor [Wooten] at Berklee. Working with the engineers on the record, I discovered that if you pan the basses it's going to add a lot more dimension than if you keep them together, which will tend to squash and muddy them. Also, positioning them a little wider than you'd expect is very effective.
Focusing on the harmonic aspect, what are the advantages of having an ensemble playing the chords as opposed to playing them on one bass?
The point of the ensemble is twofold: The first is to be able to spread out the notes for the sake of clarity. Simple, open voicings are the key. Having more distance between the intervals has the same effect as panning widely: less muddiness and more transparency. Klaus and I would work up a section on keyboard, and then I would try it with my basses, and if there was any issue, usually it was about having to spread out the voicings more. Ultimately, I used the inversions that had the most tension and also moved along well, voice-leading-wise. The other advantage of the ensemble approach is being able to play each note in the chord individually, like a horn section. I could put inflections on any of the notes and play them with more fluidity, or release the highest note before the lowest, so it sounds like an ensemble. I found it dramatically changed the color of the comping when I made a note shorter, or added expression, or laid it back so that all the notes in the chord were not being manifested at the same time.
Let's talk tracks, starting with the opener, "All Blues," which you do in 5/4 time.
I got that from [drummer] Adam Nussbaum. I was filming something for him at the Collective [School of Music in New York City], and Adam being spontaneous as he is, turned to me and said, "We're gonna play 'All Blues' in five. One, two, three ...," and he started counting it off! And I came up with that bass line on the spot, which is sometimes the best way it can happen. I developed my arrangement from my bass line, and I extrapolated from the original Miles Davis version. I tried to cop Bill Evans' tremolo piano part in my chordal track; I quote Miles in my solo, which I tried to approach like a trumpet, to contrast Tom Kennedy's energetic solo; and at the end I go to the tritone key, which is something Miles did a lot, like on Jack Johnson [Columbia, 1971]. I'm playing the bass quartet parts and Ben Perowsky is on drums.
"Spank A Lee," which features Victor Wooten, and "Hang Up Your Hangups" are obvious nods to the late Paul Jackson.
Paul Jackson was my peripheral big brother growing up in Oakland. I saw him playing everywhere, even on upright with Vince Guaraldi. He's a part of my musical DNA. He took his traditional jazz mind and brought it to a funk context, creating a genre all his own. He's the king of fluid finger funk. I felt like "Spank A Lee" was one of the less explored pieces from his time in the Headhunters, and it laid well on bass, so I went for it. There are eight tracks of bass; I'm playing three different parts, my former student Ksenia Vasileva is playing the bass part on Fender, and Victor added another four. I thought he'd send me back one track, but he turned it into a symphony! He connected all the parts together so it sounds like we're playing one continuous solo; that's the brilliance of Victor. He told me, When you're working with Pro Tools you can punch like Ali! Dennis Chambers is on drums, and he also joins me on "Hang Up Your Hangups." That evolved out of me wondering what would happen if I played four of Paul's bass lines at once, and it ended up sounding awesome, with very few adjustments. I added my solo track playing through a ring modulator plug-in to get a Herbie-Hancock-on-synth vibe.
"Velho Piano" features John Patitucci and your Brazilian guitar-style comping.
If you're familiar with the Brazilian songbook, this is one of the better-known pieces by the great composer/guitarist/vocalist Dori Caymmi. John worked with Dori when he was living in L.A., so he was the perfect choice. The bass quartet is all me, and then John solos and plays the closing melody. Then we hit double time and we trade eight-bar solos on the samba rideout, quoting other Brazilian tunes along the way. John played his butterscotch Yamaha solidbody 6-string, and Mark Walker is on drums. As for the comping, Klaus [Mueller] helped me with the voice-leading, and this was a case when John sent me back his solo, [I realized] my comping was too plain and stagnant, so I recut it to accent, complement, and fill in around what he was playing.
What's going on in "Spin the Floor," which features Matt Garrison?
That's a 9/8 synthetic "hybrid" clave I created, which is also in three and six. Robby Ameen is on drums, clave, and maracas, and it's sort of an extension of our Funkifying the Clave concept — here, funkifying Latin odd meters. Over the top I wrote a chord melody based on the Three Tonic System of "Giant Steps." ["Giant Steps" has three tonal centers: B major, G major, and Eb major.] Then I constructed some additional melodies that spun it around even more. There are panned montunos and some Ornette Coleman-style parallel 4ths, so it gets pretty dense. With Matt, we've all heard him play the heck out of "Giant Steps," and his odd-meter concept is off the chain — so I knew he would tear it up like he does. The title is inspired by my longtime Tai Chi teacher, Grandmaster William Chen, who often uses the metaphor "spin the floor" in his classes when teaching how to punch.
Your cover of Bobby McFerrin's ballad "Common Threads" is an interesting choice.
Lyricism is one of the ingredients I wanted on the record, and I've always liked this song. I had done an arrangement for my students that sounded amazing, so I had to include it on the record. I changed the key from the original Eb to G — it worked better on bass and allowed me to use harmonics — and I added a solo section in the middle. There are ten parts happening in all. Ksenia and I play six parts on electric bass, and my daughter Lia and I play four string parts that I came up with on the spot, with me on arco acoustic bass and her on cello.
"The Weaver/La Araña" is perhaps the most experimental piece that also utilizes part of the Headhunters' "Actual Proof" bass line.
Yes, there's quite a lot going on. It starts with a sort of mini art installation that's meant to simulate everything that's going on in your head when you wake up. Lia is a performance artist in Chicago, and she has an app that triggers random radio stations, and she's playing cello along with that. Then the groove comes in with the "Actual Proof" quote in 13, broken up as eight and five; then I add another part that's five and eight, so they're criss-crossing each other. I have a lab at Berklee that covers odd meters, and one of the offshoots was called Headhunting in Different Meters, so that's where the "Actual Proof" idea comes from. I constructed a Mike Clark pattern in Reason and chopped it up into 13, and Robby [Ameen] plays drums along with that. I have three bass parts, and Ksenia doubles one of them using a pick, to give it a sort of Chris Squire or Geddy Lee vibe. Ksenia is also into electronic music, so I had her add a sonic collage with a Moog patch. La Araña means the spider, so I panned my solo to sweep across the track, like a spider in its web.
"Three Views of a Secret" is one of two Jaco covers that give your bass ensemble some extended harmonies to work out.
Exactly — I always thought this piece would sound nice as a bass ensemble. This has my five chordal parts in the melody sections, in an arrangement I worked out with Klaus. It's mostly the Jaco harmonies, but we augmented a few of them and had to invert some voicings to better fit in the bass range. Mark Walker is on drums, and Tom Kennedy and Mike Pope take the solos in that order. I redid the comping after I got their solos, like I did on "Velho Piano," to better fit what they played, and I trimmed it down to fewer basses so it wasn't too dense behind their solos.
You and Robby revisit your Afro-Cuban roots on "Mambo Influenciado," which includes your muted tumbao.
That's a [Cuban pianist] Chucho Valdéz cover, basically a minor blues in 2-3 clave. The bass quartet is all me, and I take a solo. Here I'm using the thumb-and-palm-mute to get a [Ampeg] Baby Bass-like sound. I'll also mute by placing my right-hand pinkie across the strings, the method favored by Rocco and Will Lee.
What's the story behind the arco acoustic-bass quintet track "Orphic Hymn/Good Morning, Midnight"?
Both pieces are by the late Icelandic composer/keyboardist Jóhan Jóhannsson, who also was a Hollywood film composer. I first heard him listening to iTunes on the train to Boston, and he quickly became one of my favorites because of his neo-classical minimalist approach that incorporated electronics and ambient effects. "Orphic Hymn" is the first section of a vocal piece for which I changed the key from F minor to C minor, a more suitable key for the arco acoustic-bass quintet I had in mind. I was killing myself trying to get the high bass part happening, so I asked Susan Hagen, who is on faculty at Berklee and is also the Principal Bassist in the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. She loved the piece, and she recorded the top two parts, and I play the bottom three. The second piece by Jóhannsson is more Baroque-sounding, and I decided to do it on solo electric bass. It's an ascending and then descending composition that was a bit of a finger buster, requiring more than a few takes. I cut it in the summer, when there were seven-year cicadas in the trees outside. If you listen closely, you can hear them in the background.
The exotic "Kaval Sviri" has distinct voicings.
That's a Bulgarian folk song in 9/8 that I've always liked. It has a lot of tension harmonies, parallel 2nds, and two-point voicings. The arrangement is verbatim, and I added the solo section in the middle. There are three tracks of my bass, plus my solo track. I had Dennis [Chambers] play drums, and I asked him to give me three different approaches. I went with the one I felt was best suited. That's my 34"-scale Signature Fodera.
Your focus turns to classical music for two tracks with "Fugue No.1, Op. 87" by Shostakovich and then Mozart's "Adagio, 23rd Piano Concerto KV 488."
The Shostakovich piece, which is a four-part counterpoint fugue, is normally played much slower. I almost doubled the tempo. Klaus helped me work out the arrangement for my four bass tracks; some parts had to be inverted or have the voicings changed so the piece wouldn't sound too dense. It was also arranged and mixed with a focus on maintaining the right-hand/left-hand keyboard perspective.
The Mozart concerto is a devastating piece of music. The second cadence in particular is one of the most brilliant passages ever written. I spent a lot of time with the chamber orchestra score, because I had to pick five essential parts and make it into a composite. I worked on the piece with my student Gal Aviram at Berklee, an Israeli bassist who now lives in London. He dedicated an entire semester to learning this on his 6-string and truly made it his own, so I told him I was going to have him play it on my record. He has three parts and I have two. My goal was to try to match the meter, tempo, and interpretation of my favorite version by pianist Arthur Rubenstein in the early '60s.
The Sonny Rollins Rhythm-changes standard "Oleo" has cool alternate changes.
That's the Grant Green version; he was inspired by the chordal movement in Coltrane's "Moment's Notice." It starts out on C and then goes II-V to B and then II-V to the tonic Bb for the rest of the A section, so it's always moving around. The melody in the bridge is Grant Green's, as well. Klaus arranged the killer chordal intro. I'm playing three bass tracks, Mike Pope is playing the top track, and Mark Walker is on drums. I added some comping under Mike's solo.
Your cool rap version of Jaco's "Liberty City" rivals the late Victor Bailey's vocal-and-bass version of Jaco's "Continuum."
God bless Victor; we miss him every day. I thought this piece would work well as a bass quartet, and Klaus helped me with the arrangement. Then I knew I wanted to get Mike Bendy on the track, because he's a shredder who knows the Pastorius family and is an eternal student of Jaco. Mike suggested getting Adam Nussbaum to rap on the track. I knew Adam has his rap character that he calls Rap King Cole, and I knew he had played with Jaco, so I sent him the track. He called my phone and rapped 11 or 12 different choruses off the top of his head that were incredible, and I cut and pasted the pertinent parts to match the music. I play three tracks of bass choir, and then I take a pass with my fretless, quoting some famous Jaco tunes. Mike Bendy takes the solo and plays two other tracks, and Ksenia did a track. My son Theo is the voice of the MC in the beginning, and I play the grumpy comedian. It became a real party tribute to Jaco!
You close the record with the Charles Mingus tune "Vassar Llean."
Mingus is a giant whom I fortunately got to see play in New York City a number of times in the '70s. What led to this track is my fellow Berklee bass faculty member Ed Lucie, who had a copy of Steve Swallow's handwritten chart in which he brilliantly arranged the tune for multiple basses. I don't think Steve ever recorded it, but he gave us his blessing and said he looked forward to hearing what we did with it. Steve is one of my main mentors and influences, a monster in every respect: writing, playing, and soloing, and in my opinion he's still somehow vastly underrated. We did the arrangement pretty much verbatim; I took some liberties with the melody. The bass quartet is me, and then Ed and I take solos.
How do you view your ongoing career at Berklee?
It's a great place to work, with a terrific staff and facilities, and dedicated students. I've come to understand that teaching is a big part of being a complete musician, especially as you advance in your career and you have to sort of re-learn what you learned by sharing it with students. And equally important, it's a way of keeping current with what's going on. Students expose me to younger artists, so I'm learning, as well; it's an exchange. Teaching is part of the cycle of learning: listening, practicing, playing, and teaching.
What's upcoming for you?
I played on some projects that are due to come out, including one for [pianist] Bill O'Connell with Steve Jordan on drums. I've been touring with Michel Camilo again, with [percussionist] Giovanni Hidalgo or [drummer] Cliff Almond. And, there have been discussions about performing music from this bass choir record live with some of the participants, but it will probably be in 2023.