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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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It was a joyful, major-key intro. As loose and informal as the class itself. Afterwards with Malaman and Dart seated onstage at the Hawk's Well Theatre, their good-humours proved as infectious as any salt-worthy rhythm section. Without ever dropping his smile, Dart moved the conversation from his family homestead to the barrooms around University of Michigan -his home-state back in the USA -and onward to the audience's questions. Queries he answered enthusiastically. Informing the development of the groove's future. Malaman was quizmaster for the afternoon. But like any good interview it was the interviewee that swayed the dialogue. Dart explained that as a kid in Michigan, he grew up in a large musical family. His grandfather was a classical violinist. And each of his four siblings played music. Eventually he was assigned to the bass guitar in the rock band setup the clan kept in their basement. And it was through familial support, a few good teachers, and his time at Flea's -of Red Hot Chili Peppers—music camp, that Dart cemented his relationship with the electric bass. A relationship that now provides him with his livelihood and his creative satisfaction.

Joe Dart's name is synonymous with his two bands: Vulfpeck, and The Olllam. Both groups grew out of his year at University of Michigan, where he joined a band called My Dear Disco. The members of which went on to form Dart's current groups. Guitarist Theo Katzman forming Vulfpeck. And Tyler Duncan putting together The Olllam.

It was with The Olllam that Dart first came to Ireland's shores. And it is with them he returned. To play, later that evening, the very same stage from which Malaman and himself preached their art form.

And just like any other art form Dart's bass playing wasn't fashioned in a vacuum. He was influenced by Earth, Wind & Fire, and the horn section/band Tower of Power. When an audience-member asked if he had ever transcribed horn solos, Dart cited saxophonist Maceo Parker as an influence. Along with Stevie Wonder's lefthand playing on the keyboards.

He praised James Jamerson's masterful playing with Marvin Gaye. And, inevitably, Jaco Pastorius. But it was Michael Peter "Flea," Balzary that was mentioned again and again. Not in hushed or reverent tones. But always with great affection and regard.

It was Flea that formed Dart's slap-bass style. A style he calls "caveman physics," and is as upfront and hard as its name suggests. Dart explained that his goal was to "get faster." And when he tore into the strings in demonstration, his success could not be doubted.

The speed and force of his slap-playing is at marked odds with the subtle finger-style ghost notes he employed on Vulfpeck's "It Gets Funkier." And when Malaman stood up to jam with Dart and Viccaro on that tune, all traces of hardness disappeared from Dart's playing.

Neither domineering nor bullish, he moved seamlessly into his role as groove-bearer: always upholding the coherency of the track, while always propelling it forwards. Not a note was wasted. Yet at the same time, Dart was never miserly with them. Sacrificing the spotlight to the music. Rather than hogging it for his own ego.

When the applause gave way, Malaman turned to the crowd and offered them the chance to ask their questions. And as keen as the audience were to seize this chance, Dart was just as willing to pass on his knowledge. He shared his thoughts on home-recording and how best to build up strength in the picking hand. He explained the philosophy behind his bass-soloing: about keeping it rooted in the groove and building a melodic "arc." Even when one ardent student asked for the secret behind his sound, Dart did not shy away. But said that despite all the talk of pickups and strings, his sound "truly comes, from the sunglasses."

Wisdom and entertainment are too often placed at opposite poles. And rarely do the twain meet -as they did in Bill Hicks's standup and Frank Zappa's LPs. However, watching Dart and co. jam on "Beastly" was an education in marrying those alien worlds. All the eloquence of the wise met entertainment's disregard for inhibition. And the groove that convergence produced swept the crowd along. Who readily surrendered to the sound-waves. Soaking up their echoes even after they had faded out.

Albert Camus once wrote "a man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." So as the class moved towards its close, with one priceless nugget left to dig up, it was fitting that some of the final words belonged to Flea. One of Dart's first "great and simple images."


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