Wednesday, April 7, 2010



electric bass

A true champion of the electric bass guitar, Victor Bailey has distinguished himself as one of the greats on that instrument in the service of Weather Report, Weather Update, Steps Ahead, The Zawinul Syndicate and Madonna. As a leader he brings his impressive facility and undeniable groovepower to bear in the service of his own songs. An accomplished composer with an inherent musicality that goes well beyond the bass, Bailey strikes a nice balance between virtuosic chops and solid tunesmithing on Lowblow, his second recording as a leader and his debut on ESC Records.

Although it has been ten years between albums (his Bottom's Up on Atlantic came out 1990), the timing of Bailey's Lowblow is right on the money. "In the last 20 years, by the time that my generation of guys was mature enough to become artists, everything became so different," he says. "Straight ahead became the sound of 30 or 40 years ago. And electric music became smooth jazz. I think a lot of us reached a point where we got fed up. I hadn't made a record in ten years because every label wanted the radio thing. It took me that long time to run into a label guy (ESC Record's Joachim Becker) who would let me just play my bass and record the music I wanted to record."

In tandem with a pair of unparalleled drummers in Omar Hakim and Dennis Chambers, Bailey grooves with authority on tunes like "Sweet Tooth", "Knee-Jerk Reaction" and the exceedingly funky Larry Graham tribute "Graham Cracker". Special guests Bill Evans and Kenny Garrett contribute their own virtuosity on soprano sax while stellar support is also given by Wayne Krantz on guitar, Jim Beard, Michael Bearden and Henry Hey on keyboards.

The burning samba flavored "Brain Teaser" is a stunning showcase of Victor's single note prowess while the lovely, melancholy ballad "She Left Me" features some of his most lyrical playing on the record. He affects a warm, rounded upright bass tone on the piano trio ballad "Babytalk", which features Jim Beard on the Wurlitzer piano and Dennis Chambers flaunting some supple brushwork. The title track highlights Victor's vocal scatting in union with his tight, staccato basslines and "Feels Like a Hug" is a melodic vehicle underscored by cleanly picked arpeggios and synth bass while also featuring some two handed tapping excursions on Victor's solo.
Easily the most inspired track on
Lowblow is Bailey's vocal treatment of the Jaco Pastorious signature piece "Continuum". Having memorized the song and the solo note for note when he was still a teenager, Victor would later put heartfelt words to the tune in memory of the late, great bassist who was such a towering influence on so many players.

"I wrote those lyrics about a week after Jaco died," says Victor. "I can't even say that I wrote it... it just came through me. I wrote the lyrics exactly as they are in about ten minutes. I didn't change a word from that first writing. They just kind of flowed out and it just happened. Of course, I knew the whole thing intimately because I spent half of my childhood practicing it. Every day after school I had my routine of things that I would do. And one was to play 'Continuum'. I mean, I layed that song every day. To this day I can put that record on every day and listen to it. So I really knew the solo well and it seemed like the words already there. It was one truly inspired moment. It just happened and I'm very proud of it."

A native Philadelphian and current resident of Los Angeles, Bailey is a link in that long lineage of Philly bass that has produced such extraordinary players as Jymie Merritt, Tyrone Browne, Alphonso Johnson, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorious, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Charles Fambrough, Gerald Veasley and Christian McBride. And yet, he maintains that his mission on Lowblow went beyond that deep bass tradition.

"The main thing that I'm trying to show as a recording artist is that I'm not a bass player," he maintains. "I don't play the bass, I play music. It just so happens that the instrument that I specialize in is the bass. In this post-Jaco and Stanley Clarke era, there've been a lot of records with a lot of phenomenal bass playing on them but not as much phenomenal bass music... things like Jaco's 'Teen Town' and 'Baha Mama' or Stanley's 'Schoold Days', which hold up as great pieces of music in spite of the fact that they were done on the bass. And on this recording I really wanted to show the music that I have inside of me and show that I'm more than a bass player but also a writer, arranger and composer."

Growing up in a musical household (his father Morris Bailey was a respected saxophonist and writer-arranger for many of the acts on Philadelphia Sound Records), Victor was exposed at an early age to a constant flow of great Philly musicians. "I can't say that I really had any mentors, per se, but I'd come home from school and my father would be there rehearsing with guys like Tyrone Browne. So naturally hearing somebody like that when you're 16 and you'd been playing for only a year... it was inspiring to me. After Tyrone would leave I'd want to stay up and practice until midnight... like six hours straight. So he was a big influence on me though I wouldn't say mentor."

While still a teenager, Victor honed his chops on local gigs with the likes of organist Shirley Scott and jazz drumming great Mickey Rocker. "Philly is a great place to get your musicality together," he maintains. "The standard of playing is so high and there is so much competition. But it's a great education. If you're 16 and you think you can play and you wanna go to a jam session, you gotta get up and play with the older cats who run all of the club scene. So you have to learn how to play tunes and you have to learn how to play changes. You never step on the stage in Philly unless you really got it together."

Larry Graham was a particular bass hero of his in those formative years. "I was a Larry Graham nut before I ever played bass," says Victor. "I played drums when Graham Central Station first came out. I went to see him at the Capitol Center in D.C. and just to sound of the bass alone... it was the first time I had ever heard anybody slapping, and just the sound of the bass was in my head for weeks. I knew he was hitting the bass in some kind of way but my seat was so far back, I really couldn't see what he was doing. But the tone of the bass being slapped and humped was just so phenomenal to me."

"And like most guys of my age who are known as jazz guys, I grew up playing in a funk band, covering tunes by Larry Graham, Kool & The Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy Collins. I kind of always played it in a real jazzy style and over time it sort of just became what it became."

After a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Bailey migrated to the New York scene. It was on his first recording date in town, guitarist Bobby Brown'sClean Sweep (GRP), that he met drummer Omar Hakim. They also did two gigs with singer Miriam Makeba before joining Weather Report in 1982.

"As far as chemistry, it was immediate," says Victor. "It's that thing that every drummer and bass player dream of. You have certain guys that you just hook up with, and with Omar I never have to think about where the time is, where the groove is, where the feel is. We just play and it's like instant communication. I think we have a good combination of the virtuosity and the education and the heart and the soul and the groove and all that, in equal proportions to each other. I think our styles fit each other because we're both funky but we're not really funk guys, and we're jazz but we're not really jazzy guys. When we get called for something and we know that the other guy is on the gig, we instantly know that it's going to be happening, it's going to be grooving and there's going to be a lot of energy. If it's an improvising situation it's going to be a lot of fun improvising. It it's a groove thing like Madonna was, it's going to be a GROOVE thing... capital letters, please."

The Madonna gig came after her 1982 appearance on "Saturday Night Live". As Victor explains, "They were just putting a rhythm section together for her appearance on the show and she knew who we were and asked the musical director to see if he could get us. So we did that show and she really enjoyed it and she said at the time 'Whenever I do a tour, I'm gonna use you guys.' And we were surprised at how hip she was. I mean, like, at the end of a songs at rehearsal we'd play certain things and she'd turn around and say 'Don't play that Weather Report shit at the end of any tune'. And we both said to her, 'You know about that?' And she sure did."

Considering his deep-seated love of groove, Bailey was fulfilled in the pop setting of Madonna's music as he was in the jazzier realms of Joe Zawinul's world beat fusion music. "That is something that I've always been fighting, that notion that I'm a jazz guy," he says. "Fortunately, I've been able to transcend some of the boundaries. I mean, I'm just as happy laying it down with Madonna, and in her band I'm playing with the same heart and the same passion that I play with Joe."

While he remains the bass anchor in the Zawinul Syndicate, Victor also eargely awaits the opportunity to spread the bass gospel on tour with his own band."There's a whole new generation of kids out here who have never seen Jaco or Stanley Clarke. That's like my slot now, that's my audience right there. There's a whole new audience that I can turn on to that genre, that thing. It's like I'm carrying the torch. For real. I'm at the age where I'm one of the torchbearers."

Victor carries the torch in fine fashion on Lowblow

(Bill Milkowski)


Solo Album

Bottom's Up - Atlantic

With Weather Report

Procession - CBS

Domino Theory - CBS

Sportin' Life - CBS

This is This - CBS

With Steps Ahead

Magnetic - Electra Musician

NYC - NYC Records

With Bill Evans

Escape - ESC Records

Touch - ESC Records

With Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

World Tour - ESC Records

With Michael Brecker

Now You See It, Now You Don't - GRP

With Lenny White

Present Tense - Hip Bop Records


1 comment:

  1. great blogg thanks will immerse myself further
    btw if your on facebook please join my group Jazz Rock Fusion