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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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In a handwritten reply to a fan letter Joe sent him, Flea told him to "always remember that bass is a supportive instrument." The bass line is the tightrope that the lead instruments walk. A thread strong as spider-silk that runs through the band, linking each element to the others. Even on records like Californication, one of Dart's early influences, where the bass is "the loudest thing in the mix" it plays the the supportive roles of both engine and helm. Driving the sound forward as it steers the ship on its course.

After nearly an hour, Dart's masterclass had almost made landfall. Federico picked up his own bass as Dart too readied himself and Viccaro cocked his drumsticks for the closing jam. And as the trio grooved into "Deantown," the crowd sang along to the wordless tune's bass line. The riff's heft shouldering the audience's voices as the music sailed on towards its close.

Time moved slowly by as the day reluctantly surrendered to night's darkness. While the faithful returned to the Hawk's Well Theatre, the sunset threw shades of yellow across midday's clear blues. And layer by layer the sky outside was painted black as Federico Malaman and Henrik Linder's Two Bass Hit threw shapes and colours into the stalls. With Viccaro on the drum-stool and pianist Scott Flanigan at the Steinway, these virtuosos brought a comic-edge to a night that could have easily fallen into the self-indulgence snare.

However, the quartet expertly manoeuvred around that pitfall trap. Malaman danced with a total lack of inhibition or self-seriousness. And while Linder preferred to accompany his more upfront band mate with chords, he too never vanished into indulgence. So even though, as Joe Dart acknowledged in his masterclass, bass solos should be "kept to a minimum," Two Bass Hit's concert of bass soloing transcended self-gratification. And instead, took an arresting new slant on the possibilities of the rhythm section. And proved that the often disregarded bass guitar is a vital instrument in its own right.

Building from the beat up, Viccaro's drumming left nothing to the imagination. There was nothing "implied" in his timekeeping. Rather he attacked his large kit with a funking groove that kept the beat squared and well defined. Operating as they do in the lower frequencies, the dual bass guitars' sound could become muddied. Viccaro provided a sharpness to the sound. A set of teeth behind Malaman's joker's grin.

Stage-left, Flanigan sent chords shimmering through the airwaves. Providing expansive plateaus for the basses to explore. Two Bass Hit's performance was a concert of funk and groove. So the sound needed to be kept appropriately loose and spacious in order to give the music room to do just that: To funk and to groove.

While not biting like Viccaro's drumming, Flanigan's piano-playing contrasted against the bass guitars' fuzzy warmth. Not in any sort of cold, austere manner. But in its openness and lucidity. The basses were the hearth and the fire, while the piano ushered the listener in the door and into their armchair. With open arms and a welcoming smile.

Malaman and Linder's styles could not have been more different. Linder preferred to stand back and provide accompaniment to Malaman more upfront, unabashed style. And even when he took a solo Linder's playing was more reserved. No less worthy or passionate than Malaman's. But less immediately gripping in comparison to the speed of his co-bassist's lead lines. This difference of styles kept the two bass guitars from tripping over each other. As Two Bass Hit funked through their set, each instrument moved around the other. Interweaving in layers of syncopation and consonance.

Mid-show, Malaman introduced a tune of his and Linder's own devising -a musical odyssey from their childhoods up to the present day. Beginning presumably in utero, the opening amorphous waves of sound wrapped themselves around the audience. Cloaking them in a haze of bubbling basslines.

Then, with the humour that had already become their trademark, Two Bass Hit segued seamlessly into "Under The Sea," from Disney's The Little Mermaid. Combined with the comedy of that swift tune-switch, Malaman's equally swift footwork had the crowd bent double in laughter. There are those that say comedy and music shouldn't mix. That music is too quote-un-quote "serious" an art form to be fraternising with the plebeian medium of comedy. But any naysayer would have been eloquently shut-up upon seeing Two Bass Hit onstage. Watching the quartet manipulate their instruments with all their hard-won virtuosity left no doubt as to their musical worth. And the fact that they radiated such infectious joy while they did it made their melding of the comedic with the musical an incredibly potent cocktail.


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