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Alan Pasqua: Lifetime's Aglow, A (non) Antisocial Interaction

By Published: February 18, 2008
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The Antisocial Club

AAJ: NEC is really beefing it up in the jazz department. They've hired some avant-garde associated professors in there and some well-known players come up from New York regularly to give private lessons.

Getting back to the record, you use these relatively simple themes, whether fast, complex, or more spare. Let's take a fast one—"Fast Food," with that complex sax and trumpet unison line—it draws the ear in and then the band takes off.

AP: It's just that one line [sings]. The whole vehicle for that is that the one line can happen at any time in the song. Some of that comes from when I was at NEC, George Russell had the big band and we did one of his unbelievable pieces called "Living Time," which was Bill Evans trio and two full big bands.

Alan Pasqua

Ironically, that's how I got to meet Tony Williams, because we took our band to New York and did "Living Time" at Carnegie Hall. Bill had already passed but Stanley Cowell was the pianist, and Sam Rivers was on the date, too. So they set my electric keyboard—I was playing Rhodes—and my amps right behind this giant yellow drum set. I was like, "Holy shit! I wonder who this is?" [laughs] And it was Tony. And Allan Holdsworth was in the audience that night because he had just come over from England and he and Tony were formulating the new Tony Williams Lifetime. They were trying to figure out who to use for keyboards and two days later—I was living on the Cape, in West Yarmouth, in the winter for God's sake—and I got a phone call from Tony, saying, "Would you come down to New York?."

But it was that concert, "Living Time,"that...

AAJ: Excuse me, but this was as a student?

AP: Yes. So, we'd be playing one groove [hums a heavy funk ostinato] and then there'd be some improvising over it and all of a sudden another conductor would be bringing in the other big band—completely different key, completely different time signature and tempo—so all that stuff was a gigantic influence on me. So take "Fast Food," that's right out of the George Russell thing, as is the song "George Russell," of course.

AAJ: The first tune, "Antisocial Club," builds off a bass line that most beginning bassists could play.

AP: That's an old R&B bass line that someone actually accused me of stealing—I mean, really, I don't want to hear about it.

AAJ: I couldn't agree more. It's similar in that you're again building off the simplest structures.

AP: I 'm trying to use simple ideas against interesting harmony—melodies that will become familiar, quickly and just different concepts—morphing different themes. For instance, following up on "Fast Food"—they could be in the middle of that horn line and progression and I would just throw up a cue and bam—everything stops—and they start playing the cycle again. So it has nothing to do with a grid of tempo or time—it's just random and that creates tension, which is a really good thing in music.

AAJ: I'd like to ask you about a technique that I particularly associate with the Rhodes work of Herbie Hancock, but you've been doing it since the Lifetime days and it occurs in a few thrilling places on your new CD. For our readers I am going to cite some specific examples on just one tune. They occur in "George Russell" at approximately 3:50-4:05, 4:12-4:30, 4:39-4:44 and, a bit differently, with superimpositions, at 4:50. What is this technique that lends such killer abstraction and weight to the chord voicings there? It occurs on "New Rhodes" and "Wicked Good" as well.

AP: Yeah, man, "Wicked Good" came right out of Boston, right [laughs].

And yes, those little moments—those areas—that's totally Herbie influence and George Russell again. I'll plug different chords over different harmonic areas. So, let's take an example: if it's an F-minor chord, well the sky's the limit. I might play an A major-seventh on it, which is totally completely out. There's only one note that's in common but then I might take that major7 sound and just start moving it around and playing different major sevenths so you're getting all that stuff moving against the tonal center of F minor. Then I might hit an augmented major seventh—that's even more of a harmonic rub. I 'm just moving and shuffling the pieces around and that's what creates that sound.

So, just to restate, if you're a musician and you're trying to practice this—first play like that F minor7 chord and keep the root down below, or have the bassist do it. Above it, instead of playing any of that F minor, play something totally unrelated to F, such as A major-seventh, and then keeping that F down there anchored, play a bunch of major seventh chords and really try to listen to what they sound like against that F. Some are going to sound really inside, some are going to sound completely whacked. When I'm doing that I'm not interested in keeping that F minor sound in my head, I'm interested in how many beats it's supposed to last for, so I may resolve back into it at the end of two measures, or whatever it is.

AAJ: There are very few cats that have mastered that sound on electric keyboards.

Alan Pasqua AP: It's not used that much on electric. .

AAJ: Yes, but it sounds great! I can't really pick it out in acoustic settings that well. But my ears have always perked up when Herbie did it on Rhodes and you're one of the few other cats I noticed that incorporates that in their playing. So, I mean, you're right there in '75, a couple years after Crossings (Warner Bros., 1971). I guess what I'm trying to get across, in terms of the audience for the interview, is placing you, Alan Pasqua in perspective as one of the original Rhodes cats, one of the stylists, picking up on not only the sound aspect—with the pedals and the distortion and everything, but the harmonic things that make the instrument sound great. I mean, you came right out of that seminal period.

AP: Yeah, well that's right. I totally came out of that and that's where I got it all from, too. So hat's off to Herbie, man. I can't take credit for inventing it, but I'm glad I got that sound across.

AAJ: So how'd you put this band together?

AP: A lot of it was because of Jeff Gauthier, the head of Cryptogramophone. He had suggested I work with [drummer] Scott Amendola, who I knew and who I love. He suggested [guitarist] Nels Cline, who I loved but never played with. I brought in [bassist] Jimmy Haslip, who is just a dear old friend of mine—he's one of my oldest buddies in LA and of course, he was in the Holdsworth quartet with me—he is just a beautiful cat.

And then Jeff Ellwood is a tenor player that I play with in LA from time to time who just doesn't fit the mold of the usual saxophonist for me—he's basically willing to take some chances. And then, Ambrose Akimusire, I had heard because I teach at USC [University of Southern California]—I 'm in the jazz department there. Ambrose was part of the Monk Institute gang and I heard him play and I just thought, "Man, this is the first really unique sounding trumpet cat I've heard in a long time." So I immediately I wanted him involved on it. Ambrose is great.

AAJ: Well, great band, great choices.

AP: Kind of an unusual band, but it worked.

AAJ: And we forgot [percussionist Alex] Acuna, who really adds some great sounds from moment one.

AP: Absolutely. Alex is, well, Alex is totally great.

But yeah, Jeff hooked Nels and Scott into the picture first, and we needed them.

AAJ: It's a great mix—like Nels, for example, just is not going crazy in his usual Nels super-out way.

AP: He's amazing has great ears. See, that was the amazing thing really. I came into those dates very under-prepared because I knew if this music was going to succeed it was going to succeed because of the musicians, not because of all the directions I was giving them. As soon as they heard the stuff, they just knew what to do. I didn't have to tell anybody anything. Maybe, "OK, we're going to play this line and when I point at you you're going to play it again." It was more like roadmap stuff. But conceptual stuff I did not have to discuss, which is amazing.

AAJ: But you came in with tunes, right?

AP: Oh yeah, I had the shells written—the heads to all the stuff. But all the blowing and how the stuff was going to be played was them. But you know [hums the gorgeous dual-horn melody from "Antisocial Club"]—all I had written down was D7 [laughs]. And then, you know, here's a bass line and here's what I'm going to play. Everybody just went, "OK, yeah, we get it—it's this." And they nailed it!

AAJ: You didn't come in with a recorded track or demo version or something?

AP: Nothing. We never even rehearsed. We went in and did it in two days. Come in, kind of go over the idea and record. Old school, man!

AAJ: I guess so. So it's out of your experiences with Tony and Stanton Davis and George Russell.

AP: I can add Mahavishnu [Orchestra, guitarist John McLaughlin] as a gigantic influence on me.

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