Bassist Mark Egan Interview
One of the premier electric bassists of contemporary jazz, Mark Egan has distinguished himself as an in-demand session player, valued sideman and respected leader in his own right. His distinctive fretless bass sound has graced countless jazz and pop albums as well as award winning movie and television soundtracks .
A charter member of the Pat Metheny Group, he has played on multi platinum-selling recordings by Sting, Arcadia and Joan Osborne and has also recorded with the likes of Roger Daltry, Sophie B. Hawkins, Marianne Faithfull, David Sanborn and John McLaughlin and was a member of the Gil Evans Orchestra for 13 years.
On his latest as a leader, the 2-CD set As We Speak, Egan stretches out in a wide open trio setting with jazz guitar great John Abercrombie and former Pat Metheny Group band mate and Elements co-founder Danny Gottlieb on drums. Recorded at his Electric Fields studio, Egan’s latest on his own Wavetone Records label is an ambitious follow up to 2001’s Freedom Town.
Mark just returned from a highly successful European tour featuring John Abercrombie and Danny Gottlieb.
AL: Mark, Congrats on your new record. Beautiful and powerful compositions that sound that it comes from an ECM realm. Could you speak about the project and your concept?
Mark Egan: Thank you, Souvik. Yes, I think the record does come from an ECM influence and it also comes from a lot of other areas as well. In some ways it’s more electric and more upfront than some of the ECM mixes and sounds. This was the way I heard it and mixed it with the great engineer Richard Brownstein. We’ve worked together on all my solo records, many of the Elements records, the group that I co-lead with drummer Danny Gottlieb, and other records I’ve produced. Richard has an amazing gift of organizing and bringing fourth distinctive and beautiful sound.
The concept behind this record was that for many years I’ve wanted to do a trio record, in particular with John Abercrombie and Danny Gottlieb. I’ve always enjoyed their playing in various groups and recordings. Danny Gottlieb and I always have such a great rapport with all of the various musical situations that we’ve been in as a rhythm section. We’ve been playing together for 35 years now. Danny and I first met at the University of Miami where we studied music under the direction of Jerry Coker and Whit Sidener.
I first met John Abercrombie in 1981 and we played together in New York at the club, Fat Tuesdays. At that time the event was called a guitar summit and many guitarists – Vic Juris, Chuck Loeb and John Abercrombie were featured. Also, when I was member of the Pat Metheney Group we toured with John and his band on an ECM tour of Japan and the US. Also on that tour were the bands Egberto Gizmonti and Nana vas Concelos. I really had the great opportunity listen to John on those tours for repeated nights. I always felt close to his music and wanted play and record with him.
I always thought that our sounds and our sensibilities would fit together very well. With As We Speak we finally had the opportunity to play together and it was a great experience for me. I worked on compositions for about 4 months before the recording with the specific players in mind. The inspiration for this trio was also influenced by the group Gateway, which is a group with Jack Dejohnette, Dave Holland and John Abercrombie. I really enjoy their sense of structure improvisation and freedom and I wanted to do more of an electric version but with some of the sensibilities in terms of improvisation and interplay. I have been playing in a lot of different trios for my whole musical career however during the last 10 years I’ve been focusing on the trio format with guitar and writing songs with that context in mind. For the last 4 years I’ve been performing worldwide with the Larry Coryell Trio featuring drummer Paul Wertico. I’ve been thinking, composing and playing with a trio in mind and really wanted to crystallize some ideas I’ve had for that format. I feel that this trio recording, As We Speak, really captures an intimate and exposed side of my musical expression.
AL: You have been performing with Larry Coryell and Paul Wertico in the recent past, what made you choose John Abercrombie as the plectorist on ‘As We Speak‘?
ME: I love the way Larry Coyell plays, and we have a great rapport with his trio with Paul Wertico. We have been touring worldwide for the last four years and have recorded one release, Tricycles. For my trio recording I wanted to record music in a different direction, and, as I said, I’ve always been fascinated with John’s playing and I thought he would really fit in with the way that Danny and I play.
AL: I know you have been using fretless basses for a while, what were you using on this album ?
ME: I mostly used my Pedulla 5 string fretless MVP5 bass, which is a Mark Egan signature series bass. It has a low B string and it is designed with my specifications. I use a fairly thin neck from top to bottom and it also has some special electronics, a mid-range boost, and a cut away which allows me to play up into the highest note on the fingerboard. I love to play in that area. I’ve been with Pedulla basses since 1981 when he built the first bass for me. I knew him in 1978 because he refinished a Fender Jazz bass from which I’d taken the frets out of and put a finish on. I did a bad job and had to take it to his shop and put a spray finish on the fingerboard to make it playable. We’ve since developed a great working relationship and he’s built many basses for me, all the double necks, the 8 string fretlesses, the 8 string fretted. On one track – “Tone Poem For My Father” – I used a fretted bass, also a Pedulla. The reason for this was that there were a lot of chords that I played, root 5, and melody, and I really wanted to play them in tune.
AL: How do you compose, on bass or anything else?
ME: I compose many different ways. Sometimes I write completely from the bass. Many of the songs on As We Speak were composed on the bass – the title track, “Vanishing Point,” “Depraw,” “Spirals.” Often times I start things on bass and then go to the piano and work on harmonies and melodies. Sometimes I’ll record a bass line and play on top of that on piano. One of the songs I wrote completely in my head away from anything except pencil and paper, and that was called “Plane to the Trane.” At times I write entirely on the keyboard, but for this record most of the compositions were written on the bass, and bass/keyboard combination.
AL: You come from the illustrious -University of Florida. Do You ever look back ?
ME: Actually, it’s the University Of Miami in Florida and it was a very fertile time for me when I attended there from1969 untill 1976. There was a great jazz educator, Jerry Coker, that attracted a great combination of players such as; Danny Gottlieb, Clifford Carter, Pat Metheny, Steve Morse, Rod Morgenstern, Mark Colby, Eric Traub, Matt Bonelli, Stan Samole, Bill Bowker and many others. The timing was really great. A lot of people were taking chances, musically. Miles Davis had just come out with Bitches Brew, Live Evil. Jazz fusion was really coming on strong then. John McLaughlin just released the first Mahavishnu Orchestra recording and both Miles and Mahavishnu performed at the U. of Miami. Those were very inspiring times and I do look back at those days quite often and recall a lot of great memories. Those were very intense and inspiring years. I still have great friends there who are teachers and players that I’m in touch with regularly. It was a very deep experience for me and really opened my head up to creative jazz and world music. Not only was it great musically but it also opened me up to a path of yoga, mediation and an awareness of healthy food and exercise which I still follow today.
AL: The first time I heard about you was on the early Pat Metheny records, how do you feel your playing has evolved today?
ME: The Pat Metheny records were recorded almost 30 years ago in 1977 and 1980. I feel that my playing has evolved since then in so many ways. I’m much more technically fluid and harmonically I have much more knowledge of music in general. Compositionally I feel much more evolved since then having written music for the group Elements which I co-lead with Danny Gottlieb as well as my solo recordings and productions that I have been involved with. I always had good sensibilities about playing in tune and playing melodically since I was originally a trumpet player and I continually draw from those experiences.
Since my experience with Pat Metheny I’ve had so many great musical experiences; from being a part of the New York session recording scene to touring with many great artists. I’ve had the opportunity to play with Airto Moreira, and Bill Evans, the saxophone player. I was fortunate enough to record a Bill Evans record, The Alternative Man, with John McLaughlin – a high point of my career. It’s also been inspiring to play with Larry Coryell, Jim Hall, Pat Martino, John Abercrombie, Jeff Ciampa and many other great guitarists. I’ve drawn and emulated so much from all these great players and experiences. I honestly feel as if I’m only scratching at the surface of a deep well, and that is to me the beauty of music and art: It’s an endless well. Once you experience a taste from the well you just want more, and that’s what keeps me going musically and spiritually and creatively.
AL: I know you are already thinking about what you want to do next? So what is it?
ME: Well, Souvik, I have many ideas that I want to do, but one idea is to do another record with this trio because I feel like we just scratched the surface of what is possible. Although As We Speak is a double CD set I feel that’s there’s a lot more music where that came from. We just returned a few days ago from a great two-week tour of Europe which was very successful and it gave me a lot of ideas for compositions with the trio. At the moment I’m savoring those moments and using them to inspire new.You really learn what works and what doesn’t work very fast when you play for a live audience. I also have a lot of projects on the burners. I want to do a heavy groove record with the great drummer Steve Jordan along with some avant guard saxophone on top of it. What I’m thinking of is a heavy funk, Bitches Brew, groove type of feel with some real avant garde music on top of a real strong funk groove. I also have an idea to do a very acoustic record with acoustic guitars, flute, tablas and percussion, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
AL: You have a wonderful catalog through your company Wavetone records. Could you speak about the various releases?
ME: Thank you for the compliment on Wavetone records. We have 10 releases to date. One of the reasons I started Wavetone Records in 1993 was because I had a live CD which I recorded with Elements in Japan – actually we recorded a whole week – and I was able to release three CD’s from those sessions and they’re called: Elements Far East Volumes 1 and 2, and Elements Untold Stories. That band was with David Mann on saxophone and the great keyboardist and composer, Gil Goldstein, Danny Gottlieb and myself. Another release from Wavetone is a Joe Beck CD called Finger Painting and that features Bill Evans on saxophone, myself, and Danny Gottlieb on drums. Joe Beck is a monster guitar player, a deep thinker, very adept in harmony, and one of the greatest guitar players that I’ve ever played with. So that’s a very interesting project.
We’ve also done two other projects with another great guitarists Jeff Ciampa. One is called Signs of Life which features Danny Gottlieb and myself – we’re sort of the stable rhythm section of Elements. It also features Rick Martinez on keyboards, Jon Werking on keyboards and Billy Drews on saxophone. Jeff Ciampa The other release from Jeff Ciampa is called House of Mirrors and it’s a progressive, electric guitar trio with Danny and myself.
Jeff has an extraordinary fluid guitar style and a love of melodic jazz, Brazilian music and World Beat rhythms.
We also have Mosaic which was my first solo record originally released on Wyndham Hill. I licensed it to them and I decided to release it on my label after it was deleted from their catalog. I added two bonus tracks which were duos with Danny Gottlieb and myself. Mosaic is a special recording for me. It features many different basses that I was playing at the time and the music was orchestrated to feature those instruments in a very intimate and unique musical environment.
Freedom Town was my previous solo project release in 2001. It is a recording based on songs in a contemporary world jazz setting featuring the fretless bass as well as saxophonist Bill Evans and Trumpeter, Lew Soloff. I played a lot of the melodies and solos on various Pedulla fretted and fretless basses. Also featured are: Danny Gottlieb on drums, Clifford Carter on keyboards, Jeff Ciampa on guitar, David Charles on percussion and Jon Werking also on keyboards.
Thelonius Bach’s Lunch is an acoustic piano, bass and drums super jazz trio, It is original music with simplicity and complexity using a wide range of dynamics and textures to create a completely unique ensemble voice using traditional jazz trio sensibilities. It features Jeff Laibson on piano, Danny Gottlieb on drums and Mark Egan in a rare acoustic bass debut.
Mark Egan As We Speak is our latest two CD set release featuring John Abercrombie on guitar and Danny Gottlieb on drums. My intention for having Wavetone Records was and is to have a creative outlet for my different productions and recordings. It’s been a very successful company for the artists and myself, and I’m going to continue recording various creative projects. It has allowed us to do anything we want without restrictions in a wide open format of creative music.
Here is a summary of the Wavetone Records releases:
Elements Vol. 1
Elements Untold Stories
Mark Egan Mosaic
Mark Egan Freedom Town
Mark Egan As We Speak
Joe Beck Finger Painting
Jeff Ciampa Signs of Life
Jeff Ciampa House of Mirrors
Thelonius Bach’s Lunch Feat; Jeff Laibson, Danny Gottlieb and Mark Egan
It’s great to be associated with Abstract Logix, Souvik, which is such a focused website and company that draws a lot of people to a world of creative music. I’m glad to have Wavetone Records afilliated with Abstrac Logix and I wish you continued success.
Thank you very much, Souvik, for the interview. Thanks to all the readers and to anyone who listens to my music. I appreciate the interest and support. There’s more to come.