There is a vast legacy of jazz bassists whose distinct presence commands the voice of a song or the entirety of a disc. Electric bassists are unquestionably fewer by far. Even those upright bassists who’ve strapped on an electric bass have not dominated with voltage the way they’ve asserted their acoustic individuality.
While the electric bass has been used extensively in jazz since Wes Montgomery’s brother, Monk, first juiced up the Mastersounds in the 1950s, only Jaco Pastorius has propelled the electric bass into a worthy jazz voice.
Other great electric bassists such as Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Bill Laswell, Steve Swallow, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Chuck Rainey, Gary King or Tony Levin have probably become better known for other things – composition, production or an apt ability to perfectly complement or drive another leader’s voice. None have really compelled the electric bass to the head of a date.
It’s a legacy that’s due for a change.
Meet Pescara. Born Jorge Luiz Pescara, January 14, 1966, in Santo André, Brazil, Pescara is a craftsman of the highest order. What he does with an electric bass is magical. What he does with the many other instruments in his arsenal, some of his own invention, is magisterial. What he does with a melody, even the most familiar of melodies, is nothing short of enchanting.
GROOVES IN THE TEMPLE is Pescara’s first recording as a leader. It’s an electric and seemingly eclectic showcase for his uncanny mix of technical excellence and emotional sensibility.
One listen may prove surprising. Most rhythm players who lead sessions like this drown you in their sound. Pescara does not. He realizes his contribution is to the heart of each tune, pumping the blood and beating the rhythm. He never makes you aware that he’s driving the body. Just like a heart, his is a life force – not a forced feeding.
You may already know Pescara from Dom Um Romão’s LAKE OF PERSEVERANCE (Irma/JSR - 2001) and NU JAZZ MEETS BRAZIL (Irma/JSR - 2002), Ithamara Koorax’s LOVE DANCE – THE BALLAD ALBUM (Milestone/JSR – 2003), The Brazil All-Stars’s RIO STRUT (Milestone/JSR – 2001), Zero’s ELECTRO ACUSTICO (Sony – 2001), Carlos Pingarilho's STORIES AND DREAMS (JSR - 2003) or STREET ANGELS, an all-star session with Koorax, Luiz Bonfa, Lord K and Pingarilho (Mr. Bongo - 2000) or Leilah’s CORRENDO PERIGO. Or you may have heard him perform in his native Brazil with as part of legendary percussionist Dom Um Romão’s band or bring down the house in his duo performance of "Bye Bye Blackbird," with the dazzling chanteuse Ithamara Koorax, with whom he toured Europe in 2003.
This all serves to whet one’s anticipation for GROOVES IN THE TEMPLE, as auspicious a debut, perhaps, as Jaco Pastorius’s 1975 solo debut. Pescara starts with his rendition of “Comin’ Home Baby,” Herbie Mann’s 1961 hit from HERBIE MANN AT THE VILLAGE GATE (Atlantic), which featured co-composer Ben Tucker on bass. It was the first song Pescara selected and recorded for the album. Here, he lays down a slinky funk groove with one bass and alternates the song’s melody with the baritone saxophone of reed player Widor Santiago (Flora Purim, Milton Nascimento, Fourth World) using another. During Santiago’s solo, listen to Pescara spice up the groove using his “funk fingers” technique - a la Tony Levin – where he uses two little drumsticks in two fingers of his right hand to “stick” (slam/touch) the strings. It is also worth mentioning that drummer Dom Um Romão recorded this song for the first time on Sergio Mendes's album MY FAVORITE THINGS (Atlantic) in 1967.
Next, Pescara sneaks into the spooky old school funk of “Laura Lee,” a sound check of Eumir Deodato’s signature seventies grooves. “In this one,” Pescara tells, “I had the opportunity to showcase my ‘grooves collection’ from the seventies, something I adore. I grew up listening to the grooves of Anthony Jackson, Gary King, Will Lee, even Ron Carter during his electric days. I love this CTI aesthetic.” Maestro Deodato brought the song to the session, gave it its funky foundation and contributed the slinky, intoxicating electric piano solo, propelled bodily by Pescara’s rhythmic basswork. “To record with Deodato,” Pescara adds “was just a dream come true!” Check out how Deodato scores the melody for his and Pescara’s electric instruments, their voices and the ethereal vocals of the otherworldly Ithamara Koorax.
João Paulo Mendonça’s “Miles Miller,” name checks the great collaboration between Miles Davis and Marcus Miller, heard on such landmark albums as TUTU, AMANDLA and SIESTA. Here, Pescara pays tribute to the great bass master (and, it seems necessary to state, tremendously inventive composer) by suggesting not only the Miles/Miller collaborations but also the exploratory jams Miles did in the 1970s when bass master Michael Henderson was laying in the cut. The result is a reflection of Pescara’s diverse influences, taking in everything from Miller to Bach, Levin to Torn, Genesis to Earth, Wind & Fire and King Crimson to Return To Forever. Pure fusion. Note here Brazilian guitarist Cláudio Zoli’s George Benson-influenced solo (a reference, no doubt, to the many recordings Benson made that featured Miller throughout the 1980s), the way Pescara’s clever arrangement includes bass clarinet (another axe Miller grinds with amazing abandon) and Pescara’s entrancing bass solo using the MuTron II “envelope.”
Following "Miles Miller," the bassist plunges headlong into the seminal rock anthem “Kashmir,” a favorite Led Zeppelin concert number first heard on the 1975 album PHYSICAL GRAFFITI. Pescara, playing an 8-string fretless bass (the same model used by Mark Egan), imbues the stone classic with an acid-jazz groove not unlike Javon Jackson’s equally surprising take on Frank Zappa’s “Zoot Allures.” “I also love rock,” Pescara proclaims. “This song is so good that I wanted to do two versions, one instrumental and another with vocals.” In the instrumental version, José Carlos “Bigorna” Ramos alternates between the soprano and tenor sax to give the song the exotic colors the title commands. Bigorna, Maurício Barros (organ) and Gutto Goffi (drums) all come from the famous Brazilian rock band, Barao Vermelho – so they’re on familiar ground here. “We used mostly analog synthesizers and vintage keyboards,” Pescara says, “to achieve a 70s sound that makes the most sense to my musical background. So, Mauricio Barros used the Hammond organ with that famous Leslie sound. For the main riff, I used the fretless bass tuned in fifths. During the tag, Bigorna kept improvising, so we decided to keep the two tracks simultaneously.” In one of them, notes Pescara, there's a surprisingly appropriate quote of “Caravan.” For the vocal version, Guilherme Isnard, leader of Brazil's top rock band, Zero, of which Pescara is currently a member, channels his David Bowie influence into another provocative fusion.
By now you’ve probably noticed how skillfully Pescara combines multiple musical influences into a single world view. If not, it becomes readily apparent when you reach Pescara’s beguiling East-meets-West composition, “Grooves In The Temple (Ordem dos Templários).” “There's no ‘common bassline’ in this one,” says Pescara.” Actually, there are two independent grooves played by using the tapping technique and they complete each other. Each line can be heard in a different channel, thanks to the stereo mix.” Roberto Marques’s trombone bounces delicately off the twisted rhythm of something suggesting Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” in homage to the great Urbie Green, whose 1976 performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star” (featuring Anthony Jackson on electric bass) launched Pescara’s admiration and idolization of the bone great. “The trombone reflects the West,” Pescara philosophizes, “while the zither reflects the East. The guitar suggests antithesis and the bass projects synthesis. The drums and the heavy percussion are like the Earth. The trombone is like the Air. The guitar – which benefits by a Brazilian rhythm suggested by Dom Um Romão – ‘wets’ the sound with water, and the solos put fire in our souls.” Amen.
Next, Pescara pays tribute to his main inspiration, Mr. Pastorius, who the young bassist calls "the greatest genius of the electric bass." in Bill Milkowsky's book, THE EXTRAORDINARY AND TRAGIC LIFE OF JACO PASTORIUS (Miller Freeman Books), Jeff Berlin refers to Pescara's hero as "our great emperor of the bass." thus the title of the song, "The Great Emperor Of The Bass." Accompanied only by Dom Um Romão's varied percussion and vocal effects, Pescara employs multiple basses and bass effects to weave a tapestry of Jaco's melodic magic. Here, the bassist and the percussionist do a short quote of Arthur Maia's "Song For Nana." It's a transcendent whole that may also call to mind Dom Um Romão's work with Stanley Clarke on the 1972 Muse album DOM UM ROMAO.
Pescara moves back to jazz-rock fusion with “Power of Soul,” the Jimi Hendrix tune originally heard as “Power to Love” on the 1970 album BAND OF GYPSIES. Pescara gently begins what he calls his “apocalyptic arrangement” of the song with a nod to Sting, another of the bassist’s idols, and the ex-Police man’s 1987 performance of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” arranged by Hendrix specialist Gil Evans on the singer’s NOTHING LIKE THE SUN album. Working in tandem with keyboardist Joao Paulo Mendonça, Pescara builds to the song’s main theme, dramatically voiced by Ithamara Koorax (in whose band Pescara currently performs) and Sergio Vid (who sings the bonus vocal version of the song included here). Producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro, a specialist of Creed Taylor’s CTI/Kudu label – and producer of many of the CTI/Kudu CD reissues – suggested incorporating Bob James’s 1974 arrangement of the song heard on Idris Muhammad’s legendary CTI/Kudu album, POWER OF SOUL. The vocalists reproduce the horn parts and Dom Um Romão's congas follow the same rhythmic concept percussionist Ralph McDonald played on Idris Muhammad’s famed version. Note the incandescent solos of vocalist Ithamara Koorax (whose amazing voice evokes here the sound of a guitar), keyboardist Paula Faour (whose debut solo album, COOL BOSSA STRUTTIN' was released with critical acclaim by JSR/King Records in December 2002) doing a ferocious mini-Moog solo, and guitarist Dudú Caribé (who spars with Pescara in homage to Hendrix and whose fuzz guitar early on also suggests Joe Beck’s performance on Idris Muhammad’s version).
Arthur Maia’s beautifully exotic “Funchal,” a theme made popular by Maia’s group Cama de Gato, gets an East-oriented arrangement that pupil and fellow electric bassist Pescara says is inspired by the sounds of India. “My mystic side is reflected here. I wanted to explore all the melodic possibilities of the Piccolo Fretless bass, a very difficult instrument that requires a very special technique. Because there are no frets, it has a short scale (25") and sounds an octave higher than the normal electric bass. You could call it a sort of ‘baritone guitar’! I have used an exotic tuning, D A D F# (from low to treble), a lot of ‘slide’ and a piece of equipment called the E-Bow that allows me to obtain an infinite sustain and reach the sonorities of typical Indian instruments with a hypnotic effect.” The result may remind you of the ethereal journeys Weather Report took when guided by bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Dom Um Romão or the more dazzling moments of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s score to THE CATHERINE WHEEL. “All sounds here,” Pescara adds, “were made by the Piccolo Bass or by the percussion instruments (tabla etc). Claudio Infante is the baddest!”
Pescara is next heard with the late, great Luiz Bonfá (1922-2001) in one of the composer and guitarist’s last recording sessions. They perform Bonfá’s delightful jazz waltz, “Sofisticada,” a song first heard on the composer’s 1970 album for RCA, THE NEW FACE OF BONFÁ (which also features Dom Um Romão and was recently reissued by JSR/BMG). “It is an eternal honor to have Master Bonfá playing on my album,” says Pescara. The two first met through Arnaldo DeSouteiro when the producer was making the all-star STREET ANGELS benefit album in 1999. There they recorded ‘Strange Messages’ together. Here, Pescara adds some electric bass muscle to Bonfá’s dreamy, enchanting melody and slyly quotes (in a walking bass pattern) the Bonfá standard "Manhã de carnaval," from the BLACK ORPHEUS soundtrack. “This song is such a charmer,” Pescara adds. “It really speaks for itself.”
“Meteor” is another one of Pescara’s tributes to Jaco Pastorius. It starts out as a sort of etude in the classical tradition – an exercise that allows the musician to depart upon multiple explorations of a single theme or idea – with Pescara manning the Stick Contrabass, an axe the bassist describes as a “percussion instrument that plays notes.” Once again, the title of the song was inspired by a phrase from Bill Milkowsky's book, in which reedman Ira Sullivan refers to Jaco 'like a meteor streaking across the Florida night sky." “Dom Um Romão was in the studio at the time,” Pescara notes, “and right out of the blue began to play along, using only mallets. It sounded so good and so spontaneous that producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro – who has a great ear and always knows just when it’s right – asked the engineer to keep the tapes rolling. We just jelled perfectly here.” Pescara cautions that “although the piece may sound simple, the stick requires very good technical dexterity, especially in the tapping technique. There’s a part where the hands have to exchange position in the low and high parts, like the way Stanley Jordan plays. It’s tricky, but it sounds good.”
Eumir Deodato’s “Black Widow,” a song first heard on the composer’s 1976 album VERY TOGETHER, is a showcase for Pescara’s amazing arranging skills. Here, he lets a thoroughly unique horn section comprised of oboe, bassoon, French horn and flugelhorn carry the melody. It’s an uncanny mix that’s driven not by guitar (as in Deodato’s original) but rather by the bassist’s melodic Stick figures (an homage to Pescara’s Stick idol, Tony Levin, the bassist on Deodato’s original). Pescara balances the harmony by using his right hand to play the high notes and his left hand to play the bass line. “It’s a huge responsibility to arrange a theme by Eumir Deodato, one of music’s all-time greatest arrangers,” says Pescara. “However, since I accepted such a difficult task, I let my feeling flow and tried to achieve a kind of sensual groove approach. The result, I’m proud to say, was approved by Deodato himself, who called to say ‘congratulations, Mr. Arranger!’ after producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro played a rough mix of the song for him.” You'll no doubt notice the insistent groove propelled by ambidextrous percussionist Laudir de Oliveira, Pescara’s aid-de-camp and one of Brazil's first percussionists to add his rhythmic talents to American pop (Chicago, the Jacksons, Joe Cocker and many others).
Perhaps Pescara’s greatest accomplishment is how succesfully he has – in only his very first album – taken so many divergent styles, musical combinations and varied instruments and delivered a cohesive whole. It sounds very much like the result of one distinctive voice. It is. It’s Pescara. And such is the journey of GROOVES IN THE TEMPLE, Pescara’s love letter to the sounds, rhythms and musical influences that have made him the musical magician you’ve just heard.
(Mr. Douglas Payne is regarded as one of the most important historians in the contemporary jazz scene. He has written liner notes for albums by such artists as Lalo Schifrin, Clare Fischer, Hank Crawford, Lonnie Smith, Cal Tjader and Phil Upchurch. He also created a fabulous website about CTI Records at www.doupayne.com/cti.htm).