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

By Published: February 18, 2008
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AAJ: I can see why he was touched and moved. So tell about the newer one

AP: Well, Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter and myself have a new disc out now called Standards. Finally we did a standards record, I did all the he arrangements. For me, when I get to arrange songs that I love that are already great pieces of music, there's just not a whole lot you can do to make it better. I just try to make it a little different using reharmonization and other things. I think about music like this in a very organic way. I just try to approach it with ultimate respect to the music, and that way I can give it my own treatment. The stuff is very simple, but I think it's very cool. We wound up doing it in this theater and, because of the nature of these microphones, we had to kind of alter the way we were actually playing in that everything could be heard just so clearly.

So it was just a matter of moving two mikes around the room. So what I wound up actually doing was not using any left-hand chords when I would solo, almost throughout the whole record. So on every track, if there's a piano solo, ninety percent of it is just a single note solo piano line.

AAJ: That's got to be unusual. Not many records out there featuring that concept, restricting your left hand!

AP: Very sparse—really clear—makes the piano sound more like a horn.

AAJ: Did the mikes just make the left hand sound muddy?

AP: There was just too much information, yeah. Depending where the mike was. It had to be in a certain position for the bass and the drums, so if I entered left-hand information in those frequencies, it was just causing chaos.

AAJ: I can understand that, considering how trio gigs sometime sound from the listener's seat. Sounds like you took a negative and made it more a positive.

AP: There was no audience and we used no headphones, so we were just onstage and listened back to a couple of tracks and we realized what was going on. It was just a matter of readjusting to play the room. So it came out great. That's on Peter's label Fuzzy Music and hopefully we'll get to tour it.

AAJ: I'd like to se that. Which makes me realize I forgot to ask about touring the Antisocial project.

AP: That may happen. If I'm going to do it I'd like to do it with that band and Nels is really busy with Wilco.

AAJ: Did you do any LA-area gigs off of that record?

AP: I haven't done any gigs with that band, no. I'm OK with that too [laughs]. People are like, "Why don't you want to play with that band?" And it's not that I don't want to play, it's that the right situation hasn't come up. I just don't want to do a gig for the sake of doing a gig and wind up trying to recreate something. I'd rather just wait to the right time.

AAJ: Like Erskine and Carpenter too, you really straddle the acoustic and electric worlds pretty effectively, more than many other players.

AP: It's just probably because I did both at an early age. I was hugely influenced by Bill Evans growing up. I was able to play in electric bands in college. I didn't play in piano trios in college—that came later but that seed had already been cast because that's what I'd been listening to.

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The New Tony Williams Lifetime/Alan Holdsworth

AAJ: So, we touched on Lifetime a few times while discussing the new record, but I'd like to ask a few more questions. How old were you when you were playing with Lifetime? You were a very young man.

AP: I was 23 in 1975, when it happened.

AAJ: Again people don't put you there, but you are one the original Rhodes stylists.

AP: Thank you man, but that's just something I get to live with.

AAJ: It's a separate aesthetic, your sound was so thick and mean and aggressive.

AP: We played loud—really loud! We had a good time in that band I'll tell you that much.

AAJ: And what happened to the fourth member, bassist Tony Newton?

AP: He's in LA, still working out here—I've run into him a few times.

Alan Pasqua / Tony Williams AAJ: An enigmatic figure for sure. You're involved in some other very interesting fusion history as well. Allan Holdsworth's Velvet Darkness (CTI, 1976) has many stories associated with it. Some, including the Allmusic Guide, say it's just a taped rehearsal.

AP: Oh man that was hilarious. It wouldn't go so far as to call it a rehearsal but it was done very quickly. Allan didn't have a lot of control over what he was doing because of the record label.

AAJ: And then the mythology around Allan himself.

AP: Allan is really something. He's incredible and a great composer and really, really nice cat, too. When we play together we have so much fun and so many good memories to go with it.

AAJ: Hopefully more to come.

AP: God willing I hope so, man. I'm not dome twiddling knobs yet.

AAJ: So, what was it about that Carnegie Hall gig with George Russell that made Tony and Allan want you to be in that band?

AP: When they heard me that night I had some solos. I think there was probably something about the way I played, even at that early stage of the game, where I might have had a spark of my own voice, where I just wasn't a derivative of some other keyboard player, playing a bunch of somebody else's licks. They probably responded to that and my energy as a player.

Then when we got together it was kind of interesting because Tony would not really ever tell me what to do or tell me what to play. He might tell me what not to play. He might say, "Don't play that. Try something else." Or, "Make it more rhythmic." He was a great composer too and he also knew a lot about composing and orchestration, so he had a really big part in the sound of that band and ultimately shaping how I voiced my chords with Allan's melody line. On all those tunes, like "Mr. Spock" and "Fred."

AAJ: You immediately brought in one of the prototypical fusion tunes of all time. If I was to compile the fifteen greatest fusion tunes of all time, it would be on there—I'd make it the leadoff track.

AP: "Proto Cosmos." Again, right out of George Russell.

AAJ: Did you compose that before Lifetime or right when you got together?

AP: Right at the beginning of Lifetime. I think the bass line was—let me think about this [hums bass line]—yeah, it's a twelve tone row. The bass line is kind of weird. You don't even notice it. You hear [hums the theme-the phoneticisms only make sense if you break out your copy] bum da da da da da dum, ba dada dum ta dum, then ba ba bum. The bass line is going against the melody, four against six. But, yeah, it's a twelve-tone row. That's all George. I got so much out of him I didn't even realize it. It's weird because when I was actually with him, I didn't even know what the hell he was talking about half the time—the stuff is pretty complicated.

AAJ: Is he still associated with the Conservatory and taking students into his band?

AP: Maybe to a degree, but George is up in years so he's not probably not mentoring at the same level. During my time he definitely took students into his band—Stanton was in his band [note: evidently Stanton Davis is still a member of the Living Time Orchestra].

AAJ: So the Carnegie Hall thing wasn't his band per se?

Alan Pasqua AP: Our thing at Carnegie Hall was billed as "George Russell with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra," with all the special guests I referred to earlier.

AAJ: Evidently, it featured Alan Pasqua just enough to get Tony's attention, as well. I'd like to know your take on how Tony went that direction, electric or funk or fusion, after Miles and why he went back the way he did after Lifetime? He revisited more traditional forms later.

AP: Yeah but he didn't want to then, at that time, with Lifetime. I was always bugging him to play something straight-ahead but he never would. I just wanted to groove with him that way. One night at a gig though, right in the middle of "Fred," he just broke into it, like totally straight-ahead burning swing, and I just looked at him. My eyes must have been wide, as big as saucers, so I started playing, and as soon as I started he just hit this giant rim-shot like, "BAP!" And just stopped and started laughing, and did this unbelievable drum fill and then right back into the funk. He was just messin' with me.

AAJ: Any Lifetime lore from that short two-year period would be appreciated.

AP: Larry Young came by for one of shows, it was unbelievable to meet him. Joe Farrell did the same. He came by at [New York's] The Bottom Line.

AAJ: I'm very fond of Joe's records with another great Rhodes stylist, George Cables

AP: George's Rhodes, I think, is the best Rhodes sound ever.

AAJ: That's a heavy compliment coming from you.

AP: You know, like the stuff he played on [Joe Henderson's] Black is the Color (Milestone, 1972) and those other Joe Henderson records from that period. That's the best Rhodes sound I ever heard. That and probably Herbie's Rhodes sound on Crossings (Columbia, 1972). Now, that's pretty scary stuff.

But back to Tony. Tony told me he wanted to sound like Keith Moon, that he loved Keith Moon's playing. That was a big impetus for him—he was into the English drumming thing. So when I finally got the gig with him and got to New York, I was with him and he said, "Come on, we gotta go down to Manny's Music and pick you out a Fender Rhodes." I walked over there with him, because we were at SIR, rehearsing, and there's Mitch Mitchell. So Tony sees him and the two of them just like, disappear. They went off and talked and did their thing and I stayed there and tried electric pianos for a while. This was '75. So, yeah, that makes me 23.

I went down to New York and we probably worked for a couple of weeks together and Tony was like, nonchalantly, "OK, cool. We're going to make a record." We did it at the old 30th Street Studio, CBS—unbelievable. It took two days to make, with no overdubs or editing of any kind. Pretty much everything was first take. Nobody knew, nobody had like a clue...I still have this vision, I remember this studio and how immense it was. I had these giant amplifiers—Acoustic brand guitar amplifiers—two of 'em—with four fifteens and two horns, six hundred watts—and it just looked like this little dinky thing in that room [laughs]. I also had a Rhodes and a clavinet.

AAJ: How about this simple question? How'd Tony get Holdsworth? I never understood how Holdsworth got to Tony Williams from England.

Alan Pasqua AP: Let me think. He was with Soft Machine right before that—it might have been from that. But I do know Tony was looking for him. There was a mutual cat that brought them together and I forget who it was. Allan stayed in Tony's flat up in Harlem and kind of worked out a lot of that stuff with him. By the time I came along, a lot of it was done, and then they brought in Tony Newton after me.

AAJ: You almost could have covered that low end yourself.

AP: Yeah, but I don't like to do that though and Tony was badass too—a good bassist. And he brought in some tunes as well.

Let's see—another great story is that we were in Iowa one time and chased by a tornado. We were eating lunch at some truck stop in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, and I remember, all of a sudden, looking up and out the window and saying, "Wow! What is that?" The sky was purple and Tony just said, "Ohh, shit!"

AAJ: You were just passing through?

AP: No we played there. We did a gig there. We did a lot of touring in the US, just in, like, a station wagon. We just drove around.

AAJ: Tony Williams Lifetime now coming to Iowa! Did the record company assist in this effort?

AP: Yeah, to a point. It was the four of us and we had a driver, a road manager, one crew guy, and Tony's cat came with us, Tilly. The cat came in a gym bag [laughs].

AAJ: And the equipment goes ahead?

AP: Yeah

AAJ: Sorry, but the cat gym bag thing just reminds me of Paris Hilton.

AP: Yeah, now the gym bag looks sexier and costs a hundred bucks instead of two bucks [laughs].

AAJ: So basically, one moment at Carnegie Hall with George Russell's NEC ensemble and the next two years with Lifetime.

AP: It was some heavy stuff. You know, I recently got a hold of George and sent him a copy of the Antisocial record. I don't know the particulars, if he's not well or just really up in years [note: Russell is 84] but I communicated through his wife, Alice, and she said, "He rarely listens to anything, but he listened to your record twice and he loves it. And by the way he wants to write a piece of music for it, for the band." I just thought that was so hip! What a freakin' pioneer! He lived his whole life explaining a concept that people pretty much dissed. Someday people are going to go, "Holy shit! What was this guy talking about?"

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