I have learned that a musical friend, Mr N.F., is playing bass in a new band. He is coming to our leaving party later on today. I will ask him what he thinks the bass does.
Though not as musical as Mr N.F., I too was a bass player once. One of your jobs is to support the drummer by underlining the beat. The drummer is clearly in charge here. According to his obituary in the Times, Jaki Liebezeit, the drummer in Can, chased the group’s bass player round the studio with an axe because he thought he was “playing too many notes”.
I think you have a second job as bassist, though: to tell the story of the song. To tell people where it is going, how to feel about it, how to dance to it.
Listen to Axelle Red’s Sensualité. I have it in a live version. There is some percussion ticking. The song starts when the bass comes in, duetting with the singer, asserting that this is a serious dancing song. The song has a lot of changes. Each change is flagged up by the bass as it comes along.
I am changing jobs. It looks as if the new place runs along fine. I wonder what I will be able to contribute.
On Friday night we went to see Axelle Red. Drums, a terrific lead guitarist, Axelle from time to time on rhythm guitar, and a keyboard player.
Travelling Companion said there was something missing, vim, energy, bounce, even when she did the songs we know, even when she did Sensualité. It was the bass I said.
Sometimes you find out what you do by seeing what happens when you don’t.
(Bassist at a barn dance at the Kam Club)
I did indeed discuss the matter with Mr N.F. He didn’t share my high-falutin’ notions. I believe he thinks that the bass is there to add tone, like a tuba he said, not content.