Whats in a bass line?

Leland Sklar

One of great rock bassists of all time is Leland Sklar. Based in Southern California, Leland has practically recorded with everyone of musical significance on the the planet. Its probably best to try and think of who Leland has not actually recorded with, to get a sense of his impact on modern day music. Initially Leland got his start with James Taylor, and then branched out all over the countryside like a subsonic virus.

My introduction to Leland’s playing was through Billy Cobham’s solo album Spectrum, which also happened to feature several of my all time favourite musicians in Tommy Bolin on guitar and Jan Hammer on keyboards/ synth. I’d always loved Billy’s drumming and Jan’s keyboard contributions with Mahavishnu Orchestra.

What a band……………Billy Cobham, Leland Sklar, Tommy Bolin and Jan Hammer.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Leland play live on the last Toto tour to Australia in support of the Falling In Between Project. Steve Lukather actually introduced him to the audience as the most sampled bass player in history, and then let Leland played a few notes of the Stratus bass line referred to below.

Oh yeah, that bass line.

On Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album, Leland  plays the bass line for the track Stratus (Pts 1 and 2). Pt 1 features Billy Cobham doing some interesting drum synth improvisations, accompanied by Tommy Bolin using his Echoplex unit to great effect to get those ambient echoed guitar chords. Brilliant. As Pt 2 of the track starts the groove hits you and its the rolling bass line that catches your attention, along with Billy’s drumming, and Tommy Bolin’s rhythm guitar stabs. The track itself moves through a number of phases featuring Tommy, Jan and Billy, all soloing.

Jeff Beck has remarked that this particular album recalibrated his perpspective on guitar playing and musical direction big time. Jeff later went on to work extensively with Jan Jammer. In his relatively recent Live at Ronnie Scott’s project, Jeff plays Stratus Pt 2  with the very talented Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Jason Rebello on keyboards. Another classic lineup. Check them on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Live set (2007?)

Introducing Massive Attack AND THE advent of sampling,

The point of interest of this whole story is the fact that this rolling bass groove (along with Billy’s drumming and Tommy’s guitar playing) finds itself on to a Massive Attack album called Blue Lines. Yes the dudes from Bristol had some how stumbled upon Stratus and this bass line. Who did the stumbling and under what circumstances? Was the bass line/ groove used to underpin some live DJ stuff? Who put the band in the direction of jazz rock fusion records in the first place? Blue Lines came out in 1991 and the track Safe from Harm, sung by Shara Nelson, has a familiar sound but a new context. Sensational.

Check out Massive Attack’s take on Billy Cobham’s Leland based groove, and Billy Cobham’s Stratus. Enjoyment.

~ by gazlington on January 2, 2012.

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