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

Phil DiPietro By

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Alan PasquaAny discussion of Alan Pasqua must start with at the scintillating beginning of his official discography. His first recorded performance featured the then 23-year-old wunderkind of Fender Rhodes on The New Tony Williams Lifetime's Believe It (Columbia, 1975). His first sounds committed to wax were texturized Rhodes thickening "Snake Oil," then shadowing its serpentine melody as stated by Allan Holdsworth, a guitarist seemingly stolen from the future by the unit's provocative leader, the now-legendary Williams. At that time, the drummer had rededicated himself to somehow reenergizing his already incendiary Lifetime phase by completely revamping it with new talent.

Pasqua was a critical piece of Williams' balls-to-the-wall outfit, chosen as much for his blossoming compositional leanings, fostered by his studies with George Russell, as his flat-out blistering skills as a pure player. His first composition for Lifetime, and therefore the world, was his only one on that cataclysmic debut. It was a composition so exciting, and still so fresh, that it remains in Allan Holdsworth's set lists today, in performances with and without Pasqua, usually as an encore: the prototypical jazz/fusion masterpiece, "Proto Cosmos."

The New Lifetime supernova burst after two tumultuous years, but spawned an offshoot solar system in which Pasqua and Holdsworth remain stars today. Pasqua's career veered into the highest annals of popular music, following up the Lifetime stint immediately with fellas named Dylan and Santana, helping to launch the career of one Eddie Money, and compiling an overwhelming, pages-deep list of session appearances. Even as his industry path continued to glitter with such jewels as co-composing the theme for the CBS evening news (still running since 1987), his love for all forms of jazz never waned. While continuing to record with Holdsworth, Pasqua began to carve out a separate career path as a formidable acoustic pianist, perhaps Los Angeles' leading light in that genre, with releases such as Milagro (Postcards, 1993) and Dedications (Postcards, 1995).

Today, Pasqua's career revolves more closely around the jazz world, as he continues to release acoustic sessions with his former college roommate, drummer Peter Erskine. But he's somehow remained relatively underrated as a composer and performer of electric jazz, and unheralded for his groundbreaking and seminal work, both harmonically and as a sound-sculptor, as it relates to the evolution of electric piano styles. That changed in 2007, as fans of electric jazz were gifted with two stellar recordings, one of which was a live DVD with Allan Holdsworth, complete with state-of-the-art sound and video quality, recorded at Yoshi's. But it was The Antisocial Club (Cryptogramophone), one of 2007's finest releases, which packed the most stunning surprises. With new personnel, new tunes, a new keyboard providing a new arsenal of sounds, and a discriminating genre-specific aesthetic that remains intact and strikingly up-to-date, Pasqua accomplished nothing less than re-evolutionizing that previous Lifetime right into this one. It's like he never stopped—and, as we'll find out, he never really did.

Chapter Index

  1. Back to Electric, Part One
  2. The Antisocial Club
  3. The Acoustic Alan Pasqua
  4. Standards
  5. The New Tony Williams Lifetime/Alan Holdsworth
  6. Books and Personal Favorites
  7. Back to Electric, Part Two
  8. Alan Pasqua: Educator

Back to Electric, Part One

All About Jazz: Sorry, but I'm suddenly intimidated. In preparation for this, I discovered I was not aware of all this bio for you. I am a fan of electric jazz and know you from that. I had no idea about Santana and Dylan and all of that. Did you tour with these people too?

Alan Pasqua: I was in Bob's band for a year and I was in Carlos' band for two years.

In 1978 I played with Dylan. I met Carlos, actually, while I was out on the road with Bob—he knew of my work with Tony and we just kind of stayed in touch. When I finished my time with Bob he had an opening in his band for a keyboardist so he gave me the call. I went up to the Bay Area and did that for a couple of years.

That was a lot of fun! I grew up of course playing in rock music and bands when I was a kid so it was like the best of both worlds. I got a chance to improvise but also play some good tunes. With Santana I was on Marathon (Columbia, 1979) and Zebop! (Columbia, 1981). Keith Olsen produced that—it was a more commercial venture. With Dylan it was Street Legal (Columbia, 1978) and Live at the Budokan (Columbia, 1979). Really different [laughs].

Alan Pasqua AAJ: Pardon me for not knowing about that. And I was presuming to start by talking about your new record, which is ridiculously great, and go backwards, if we are going to possibly hope to cover Alan Pasqua. The inspiration for the new record seems to me to be totally out of the Tony Williams Lifetime thing, but people are saying it's out of the Miles electric thing too. Do you feel the same way?

AP: No—it's uh—a great question! I'm so glad you asked [laughs].

It certainly came out of my time with Tony. I think—if I kind of wind the clock backwards—Allan Holdsworth and I reunited a couple of years ago after a long spell where we hadn't played anything together. He showed up at one of my gigs—it was a total surprise—and it was so good to see him. Then I was over in Europe touring and was talking to one of the booking agents over there and mentioned to him that I was thinking about putting something together with Allan and he just jumped at it and said, "Do it and I'll book it!" That started the while thing rolling. We did that live DVD at Yoshi's in Oakland, which came out really nicely. A great production company and film crew did that called Altitude Digital—wonderful cats from Austin Texas.

AAJ: They did that Out Trio thing with Terry Bozzio, Alex Machacek and Patrick O'Hearn.

AP: Exactly.

So I had to dust off, you know—I had to get rid of the cobwebs because I hadn't played electric music in a long time—electric improvised music. So it just kind of led me down the road, of course, of equipment and all that stuff and I finally discovered this Swedish keyboard called the Nord. It was such a shot in the arm for me because I had heard it and I thought it sounded incredible and then I actually played it and it knocked me out. It allowed me to do things—it's a really intuitive instrument so you can kind of program it to do what you need it to do—and in real time.

Before, like in the old days with Tony, I had an Echoplex and a phaser and a wah-wah pedal and a volume pedal and all that stuff.

AAJ: I was going to ask you about that—you've always been right there—an incredible sound guy—at the cutting edge as far as just sounds on the electric keyboards—let alone what you're playing. You obviously take great care as far as what's going on in terms of those great sounds.

AP: I'm interested, you're right, in those more classic sounds and I don't like to spend a lot of time getting it. I'm not one of those guys that likes to tweak stuff forever. I get real bored real fast, so I need to have something good quickly. So again, it's the Nord that just flat knocked me out—and that kind of was the basis for this whole Antisocial Club record.

AAJ: Those sounds?

AP: Yeah. Once I had that instrument and I started working with it more it was like—ah-hah. I was just getting really familiar with it when we made the record. Then Holdsworth and I went on the road this last summer to Japan and Europe and I really got the chance to play with it and really get it to work even more favorably—to check it out and see what it could do.

AAJ: So you're saying you made the Antisocial Club record before the Holdsworth tour, even though it took until, like November for the CD to come out?

AP: Yeah. It came out in October [2007] and we made it in March.

AAJ: Now I get it. That's incredibly fast—you just got the Nord last year and most of the sounds on the Antisocial Club are on that?

AP: Everything on the CD is the Nord except, of course, my acoustic piano on the last track. Everything else is on that one instrument.

Alan Pasqua / Alan Holdsworth AAJ: Well, that's surprising. I was going to ask you about the acoustic piano recording on "George Russell," because it had a treated quality to it. Now you're saying it's the other way around.

AP: That's the Nord processed with like, DDL and a bunch of other stuff. It has a great acoustic piano sample on it and really terrific Rhodes and great, built in, on-board effects, which is kind of the capper for me. That's what makes it really shine—really sets it apart—because then you don't have to bring all that other stuff with you—just the cables alone.

AAJ: You get that really great processed Rhodes sound on the first tune—that dirty Rhodes. You used to have to use like—a whole macro circuit board lookin' thing!!

AP: [laughs] There's this great analog overdrive circuit on that keyboard. Then you can program that in real time, you can add just by hitting a pitch wheel—you can add tons of distortion or not—just kind of dial in what you want—it's really great.

So a lot of the inspiration from the record came from Tony. And I mean, of course, Allan—but really Allan in the days of Tony. Then before Tony, when I was in Boston, I was a member of a band of a great bandleader and great trumpet player named Stanton Davis, who was one of George Russell's really kind of disciples. He had a band called "Ghetto Mysticism" and I was the pianist in that band for awhile. Bill Pierce played tenor, sometimes Leonard Brown played tenor, and Jerry—Jerome Harris—was the bassist for awhile. It was a killer band! It was all instrumental groove, funk music and it was a tremendous influence on this project as well.

AAJ: Billy Pierce is still here at Berklee—we'll get on him to get you back here.

AP: I love him. I want to come back to too. I love New England I grew up in New Jersey but I consider myself more of a New Englander. I just totally get it and I just love it up there. I am a die-hard Red Sox fan—like crazy, I mean crazy—and so's the whole family. We'll be back one day.

AAJ: So what's the chronology on Boston and Stanton Davis.

AP: I was in Boston from '72 to '75 and then I went on the road with Tony right during that time.

AAJ: So critics are making that Miles connection just because there's a trumpet in the band then?

AP: [laughs] Yee-ah. I mean I hear this stuff about On the Corner (Columbia, 1972) and [In a] Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) or whatever and, my God, I love those records—good grief, I listened to that stuff so much when I was in school and back in Boston. So of course I'm going to be influenced to some degree by that, but I listened to M'wandishi [Herbie Hancock] just as much and the Meters and Kool and the Gang and Sly and then...Tony! Emergency! (Polydor, 1969) and Ego (Polydor, 1970) and all that stuff. I don't know—I think people that have reviewed the record and have made that comparison so strong to say it's another Miles Davis rip—I think they missed the boat.

AAJ: Well, the thing is, all the reviews seem to mention Miles, but I only saw one mentioned it negatively. The rest are saying the record is great!

AP: Well, most of the time, yeah, thanks. Most of the reviews have been great.

AAJ: The Down Beat thing pissed me off! So I presume that's what we're talking about.

AP: Some reviews, you know, they don't do their homework. They get guys to listen to half of one track and they write a review about it. They read the liner notes and if the liner notes piss them off, they include that too!

AAJ: I don't remember the liner notes.

AP: There aren't any! [laughs]

AP: I wrote one little hilarious line that describes the Antisocial Club in really small print and then I just thanked Jaki Byard, George Russell, Stanton and Thad. They were my teachers in Boston.

AAJ: They were all Conservatory people.

AP: Yeah. I went to NEC [New England Conservatory].


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