On May 26th prolific jazz guitarist Greg Chako is releasing an exciting jazz album unlike most of his previous catalog, a stripped down duet with bassist Mason Daugherty. The two create an exciting release that has already caught the ear of some of the best bass players in jazz who've had nothing but praise. Here's what the duo had to say about the new album which is available on all streaming services tomorrow.
Question To Greg: What was the inspiration behind doing a duet album with only guitar and bass?
Greg’s Answer: There were a few factors at play here . . . such as: #1) the locale I live in, #2) issues of cost, #3) the fact that Gt/Bs duos are the most common format for gigs and therefore deserving of my compositional focus, and #4) I’d never done it before!
Since I moved back to my hometown of Cincinnati in 2017 to be closer to an ailing relative, I have not enjoyed the same sort of musicians community that I relished while living in Asia. My Asian-based recordings, such as Integration, Where We Find Ourselves, and Sudden Impact, included instruments like Tabla and Didjeridu, often Afro-Cuban percussion, and sometimes a unique ‘front line’ of guitar, trombone and soprano sax. These various small ensemble formats perfectly matched the inspiration I derived from living in (what was to me) an exotic tropical island environment with extremely diverse cultural elements. Relocating to Cincinnati after being abroad for so long, I am missing some of the inspirational factors that life abroad afforded me. Here and now, I have neither the data-base of players at my disposal OR the budget necessary to record larger ensembles.
In the time period just before and during the 2020 COVID lock-downs, it occurred to me that I’d never written anything specifically for the bass-guitar duo, even though that particular duo format is the most common one for getting gigs. In Japan, I made an album called, Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd, with duets of guitar/vocals and guitar/piano; and I did a solo guitar album called My World on Six Strings, but never one of just guitar and bass. So in a way, this album is long overdue!
Since live performance venues were closed in 2020, there was an opportunity to focus my time on composing music at home. I do fancy myself more of a composer than strictly a player, and one of the challenges of writing engaging music in which bass often plays the melody, is the fact that the bass is in a lower ‘register’ than the guitar. How does one arrange the music so that the melodies played by the bass stand out despite its lower register? That posed a challenge that at-once intrigued and inspired the composer in me.
Though there are well-known recordings of Gt/Bs duos, such as those of Jim Hall and Ron Carter, and Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, I believe that the music I have written sets this album apart from all those due to the complexity of the arrangements and my choice to put the guitar and bass on ‘equal footing’ as opposed to the far more common situation in which the bass merely plays an accompaniment role to the guitar.
Question To Mason: How did you meet Greg and what drew you to do this project?
Mason’s Answer: My former teacher recommended me to Greg for some gigs, and Greg asked if I wanted to come over to jam. We played a few standards and then he started breaking out his originals. I absolutely loved them. They had interesting chords and phrasing that lent itself to fantastic solos. Then he showed me his Gt/Bs duo tunes. They were meticulously arranged with bass at the forefront. It satisfied my love for bebop and my need for a playing challenge.
Question To Greg: You mentioned earlier the challenge of highlighting bass melodies given its lower register when compared to the guitar; What were some of the other challenges you faced in making this record, and how did you confront them?
Greg’s Answer: Well, the music is not easy for either of us to play, and it’s especially difficult for the bassist. The truth is that, before finding Mason, I approached one particularly skilled player who told me that the music was too complicated for him! Having the chops to play this music is one thing, but having the time and the patience to learn and practice it with me is something else entirely! The complexity of the music demands a high level of commitment by both players involved and it’s worth mentioning that I did not pay for rehearsals. It was a huge challenge to: #1) find a bassist willing to commit to the project, and then #2) to spend enough time playing together to achieve the type of cohesion we both want and expect of any recording we’re involved with.
If you’ve heard how well Mason plays on this record, it should come as no great surprise to you that his playing skills are increasingly ‘in-demand’ in the local job market. Finding the time to work this music out together was a challenge in itself. He and I got together as and when our respective schedules allowed. We practiced just 2 songs at a time. Once we felt we were ready, we’d go into the studio to record them. After those were ‘in-the-can’ so to speak, we forgot about them and turned our focus to the next 2 songs. As a result of that somewhat cumbersome, yet necessary process on our part, it took almost a year to get all 11 songs recorded. I think it is funny to share with you that after the recording was finished, we no longer had all 11 songs under our fingers. I knew that we might get a gig in which we’d have to perform this music in front of a live audience, so after the record was finished, we continued to practice together regularly. I’m happy to tell you that now . . . almost 5 months after finishing the recording, we CAN play all 11 songs even better than we did on the record! Isn’t that funny? There’s a lot of dedicated work involved to pull off a project like this as we have done.
Question To Mason: Have you ever played in a gt/bs duo before and if so, what if anything, makes this particular one different?
Mason’s Answer: I have played in a Gt/Bs duo setting before. Many of my closest friends are guitarists. What sets this duo apart is again the meticulous arrangements with the idea of absolutely adhering to our typical roles as well as the atypical one Greg set for the bass. I have to play a lot of the melodies, which is already something very different. And Greg is hardly just comping for me at those times. He might be doubling my melody, doubling my melody while comping, playing a contrapuntal melody of his own, or we're trading off those melodies, each of us playing it at different times.
Another thing that makes it different is that we've practiced this music together. This was never a ‘hired gun’ scenario where he sends me the music and I just show up at the studio and play it. We were able to get these arrangements ‘tight’ at his home rehearsal space. And then when we were comfortable we'd play some of it at our weekly gig. That and the metronome was how we were able to achieve the level of cohesion we have today.
Question To Greg: What can you share with us in terms of the selection of songs presented on “A Place for Bass?”
Greg’s Answer: I was concerned and aware of the possibility that a large group of people might not be as interested in a Gt/Bs album as they might be in an album featuring a larger ensemble. Without a drummer, it’s far more difficult to play certain beats or tempos. All my releases offer various styles and time feels, and this album was going to be no different in that respect, but unlike some of my previous albums like Friends, Old and New for instance, which featured trio, quartet, quintet and even an octet(!), we did not have the luxury of any variation of format like that. It’s just guitar and bass, no frills, bells and whistles - ha ha!
Before I even wrote all the songs, I knew there was going to be at least one major blues, one minor ‘bluesy’, one 3/4 time, one Bossa-Nova feel, one ballad, plus some medium to uptempo contemporary sounding selections. In the end, reviewers said that the record has “an impressive amount of variety,” and I had friends of mine who said that though they didn’t usually like duo records, they nonetheless liked this one, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.
Here are some interesting points about some of the songs: Bach to Bass is a contra-fact of Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring, but it is arranged in the style of a Bach Two-Part Invention, in which both the guitar and the bass play separate ‘stand-alone’ melodies that work in harmony with each other. In Bass-in’ Street Blues, the initial melody is played in unison, but there’s a sort of ‘shout-chorus’ after the solos which, like Bach to Bass, also utilizes classical-style counterpoint with the bass and guitar playing separate melodies in harmony. On First Bass, starting with the bass solo, the key modulates up a Whole Step after each and every chorus, returning to the original key only after 6 total solo choruses. A couple of the songs, such as Base Time, have an uncommon number of bars or phrases: instead of a typical 12-bar phrase, it's 13-bars! I never set out to write something unusual like that - my composing is completely organic - it just turns out that way . . . but soloing over odd-bar forms like that is a mind-bender!
Question To Mason: Were there any uniques challenges or surprises in learning these songs, and if so, what were they?
Mason’s Answer: A unique challenge was the physical demand of the music. Greg wrote my parts in a range where the upright ‘speaks’, a higher range. You have a couple left hand methods on the upright bass. On the lower end you use your index, middle, and pinky fingers with the ring finger supporting the pinky. But in the upper register, you use all five fingers with the thumb anchoring itself to different spots on the bass. In between those areas, there isn't as solid a system for fingering; "No Man's Land" I've heard it called. Greg's music is in all three ranges, but mostly in "No Man's Land!” That area requires a great deal of focus on my part in order for the notes to be in tune. That, coupled with some quick ‘high-interval’ leaps, and not having the rhythmic support playing with a drummer can provide, makes for a tremendous challenge.
Question To Greg and Mason: What hopes or aspirations do you have for this duo moving forward, and for your own career too?
Mason’s Answer: I hope that our music ‘grows legs’, traveling the world while Greg and I follow its path. I'd love to use the project to experience new cultures and see new sights. As for my own career, I'd like to continue playing as much as possible and continue to play music that ‘pushes’ me . . . all that while nurturing the friendships that I have made and sharing my own music too.
Greg’s Answer: I agree with what Mason says in regards to gaining the sort of professional recognition and exposure that could lead to touring both in the States and abroad. While I have had significant experience playing outside the USA, I still long for more of it. I think that anywhere one lives, even if in a jazz capital of the world like New York City, musicians are prone to being innocent victims of what I shall call the “Local-Musician Syndrome,” a malady that no local can really escape, which is why even more famous players than us will leave their home-base of NYC to travel all over the world to play. For some reason, players can tend to be less appreciated in the local area they live in, and even though it makes no sense at all, musicians visiting from out-of-town just must be better to go and see than a ‘local’ - ha ha!
The expert reviews we’ve gotten on this album, from Master players like Rufus Reid, Dave Stryker, Ron McClure, Peter Bernstein, John Clayton, Rodney Jones, Jimmy Bruno and Ben Monder, have been truly heart-warming and totally outstanding. So with ‘kudos’ and support like that, I think we’re both anxious to reap the rewards of our efforts in the form of more opportunities to share our music with folks all over the world!
Greg Chako Mason Daugherty | Interview May 12th 2023 | https://gregchako.com/