3Below (Michael Manring, Alonso Arreola and myself) spent the whole of last week in Mexico. And when I say the "whole week" I mean it. For most of the days we were getting up at 5 or 6am and then going full steam until 1 or 2am. We did a bucketload of interviews interspersed with rehearsals, air travel, sound checks, shows and workshops.
3Below is one of the most unusual groups I have ever been involved with. For starters >>> Three Bass Players. Right there you either have me intrigued or you REALLY don't have me at all! For my money, the idea of it sounds completely preposterous. Who wants to hear three bass players? And only the sound of three bass players? No other instruments at all! I'm pretty sure I don't, but then...
OK, admitedly we aren't just three regular bass players. I extend far beyond the bass register and both Michael and Alonso have a plethora of exotic and extended sounds in their musicial suitcases. But still, three?
Yes, the answer is YES. As ridiculous as it sounds this group is phenomenal. It really is. We play as a trio, we play in duos and we each do a solo segment. In a way it is a celebration of our instruments. But in truth, there are thousands and thousands of folks who play instruments like ours. So, the real story is this group is a celebration of everything each of us bring to the table. And then the combination of the three.
This combination-of-the-three-of-us has really blossomed into something super-substantial on this particular tour. It seemed to first take hold offstage, in our conversations. To step back and listen to the interactions we have in conversation is a high charge. For all of us. We talked about our craft and how we approach our art-forms. We each have our own obsession with our instruments and playing techniques. Then how we practice and work towards furthering our relationship with music. And then how music sits in the world as a living, breathing, form. We were able to bring some of this to bear in our two workshops.
Some great tidbits:
- Fingerings. How do we each approach fingering a scale, for example. Three entirely different approaches.
- Rhythm practices and rhythmic feel. How do we work on this and how do we teach this work to others.
- Ear Training approaches. How do we hear the organization of music and how do we pratice connecting with it.
- Modes and scales. How do we each look at the construction of modes. And how do we each organize that information. Both, for ourselves and when we present it to someone who is trying to get a handle on it.
- The fretboard. How do we see the fretboard. And how do we deal with people who are struggling to learn the way around the fretboard.
This is just a list of the very technical stuff. But, and here's the thing, if you are going to build a musical language for yourself -- one that authentically serves your personal aims -- then you are going to have to sort through everything to see what fits you. This means EVERYTHING. Everything that you have inherited from your musical culture to see what you want to use, what you need to through out and what you need to alter.
The three of us are on, and have been on for many years, this exact journey in our personal work. So this group, in part and from my perspective of course, is a whole lot about us coming together on just these points. To share info and ideas, both technical and musical. And then play some hot shit!
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We began in Mexico City, rehearsing at Alonso's place and eating as much of Marion's food as we could get our little hands on. We worked out some of the older repetoire and then added some new pieces -- mostly notably, Manring's tune "Big Fungus" from THONK.
See Video of this from the show in Mexico City at Lunario.
Alonso wheeling and dealing for us as he holds up our new stage banner.
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With two half-days of rehearsal and two half-days of interviews in Mexico City in the can, we flew out to Guadalajara. We immediately began with tons of interviews, though we did have time to stop by the monument of Alonso's grandfather, the famous Mexican writer Juan José Arreola. In this town they have a whole, beautiful park dedicated to artists and authors. Hmmm...imagine that here in my neighborhood...
Next we squeezed in an amazing meal of meat, meat and a bit more meat. This included the lovely drink of meat juice and beer. Must always try the exotic. It sounded horrible. And in this case, it was horrible!
On to radio interviews and back to the hotel for much needed sleep.
The next day, a few more interviews then off to sound check. This went smooth enough. We've been experimenting with a radical sound idea for this tour. Which was to do some hard panning of the instruments. Something you generally never do live. And you never do it with bass instruments. But screw that, we are 3Below and we are in Mexico. Let's get crazy!
When we were playing as trio Alonso stayed in the middle and Michael and I were panned pretty hard left and right. And when we played in duos we panned each to their own side. It really worked. Cleared out the middle and there was room to hear so much more of what is going on. Especially when the three of us go down into the low register. There was room for everyone's sound and approach, spread across the whole room. Kudos to our sound men for having the cojones to try it. I know most sound mixers 10 years ago would never have even tried such a thing. They would have whined about it and probably not done it as extreme as we got at these shows.
The show was fantastic. I was surprised to deliver my solo set with no disasters! Hurrah. Big Fungus was a rocking hit as was everything else in the show.
I had to use more pedals that I normally prefer. But I need to control my laptop as well as the sound effects.
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After Guadalajara we flew back to Mexico City for more interviews and then our show there. Special night. Special in that Mexico City is a HUGE city and it is always special to play there. But also because Alonso was bringing a special guest into the show. Another bass player! Sabo. They did a fantastic duo together and their piece was touching on many levels.
Michael's set was ridiculous tonight. When he brings out the Hyperbass the world always turns inside-out.
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Next morning, early rise to fly out to Aguascalientes. Crazy long day with us doing a workshop the minute we arrived. This was wonderful. The room was full and folks were eager to ask us deeply engaging questions. Not abstractions, but genuine questions. There were some fantastic exchanges here. Plus we did some very cool playing.
As soon as the workshop wrapped up we dug into the real sound check and began preparing for the performance. Which was, as usual, fan-freaking-tastic! We tweaked out the beginning of the show and made a few other small changes. Now things are flowing even stronger.
Afterwards off to Lechon Rudy for serious pork sandwhiches.
After that we couldn't pass up a shot of Mezcal at Perro Negro. Especially since they were honoring the King out in front of the place.
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Next morning another early flight to shoot back to Mexico City for our final event. A big workshop at the Academy of Art of Florence. This was the Mexico City branch of art/music schools based out of Italy. We were thrilled to be invited to present here. And again, the questions coming from folks here were on an extremely high level. Which, of course, means we can respond at a high level. The people running this place are on top of their game.
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All in all, this trip was similar to others I have known coming to this country -- great people at every turn. I look forward to coming back as soon as possible. Meanwhile, after having slain three cities here in Mexico, our plans for total world domination are being made as I write this.
Be warned: 3Below is working on how to come to your neighborhood!