Los Angeles Times
December 9, 1994
Ferry Puts Some Heart
Into His Mannered Warble;
musical times passing him
by and his recent albums showing little sales punch, Bryan Ferry and
his aging image have the look of an endangered species. And when the
singer tossed glitter into the air during his first song at the
Pantages Theatre on Wednesday, it looked like a desperate, flailing
attempt to recapture the past.
proceeded to turn in a charming, involving concert, bringing
a touch of playfulness to his wounded-romantic persona and summoning
more conviction than
you'd think possible. He didn't break character, he didn't break
ground, but he put some heart into his mannered warble, and the
performance of his nine musicians evinced respect for his music and for
his audience. In fact, Ferry seemed to know that the band was the real
spark of the show, and he allowed them full rein. The evening
came palpably alive during Melvin Davis' awesomely physical bass solo,
where it seemed very likely that he'd snap his instrument's neck with
the fingers of his left hand.
company turned his music's split personality to their
advantage. In the richly atmospheric mood pieces such as "Slave to
Love" and "Swept Away," supremely sensuous swells of sound filled the
party-tent stage set over the lapping funk beats. The rockers, ranging
as far back as Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain" and "Do the Strand," didn't
have any real grit, but grit isn't
the currency in Ferry's dream-pop realm. Engaging artifice is his game,
and he still plays like a master.
July, 1996 -
I'm on the 4-string, I know
what to do," says Melvin Davis with a smile. "It's the norm. But when I
get my 7-string into my hands, it's almost spiritual. It's a huge
vehicle with almost infinite possibilities, and I really enjoy
accepting the challenge. Why stay on the sheltered shore when you can
sail out into the wide-open sea?"
It's an apt metaphor; slap a mast and rudder on Davis's sizable Ken
Smith MD7, and you'd have a nearly seaworthy vessel. But the travels
Davis takes via his instrument tend to be of a headier nature, and
considering how his fingers fly from the steadiest of funk grooves to
the most sublime solos, there seems to be little risk of this bass-ship
ever capsizing. "I'm not sure about that," Melvin
chuckles. "When I
get out into that deep water, sometimes what I find is great and
sometimes it isn't. That's cool, because I love to explore. I don't
want to hinder anybody else's performance; I want to be consistent in
my role as a bassist in an ensemble. But when the opportunity presents
itself, I like to try things.
An ensemble couldn't wish for a more team-spirited player than Davis,
whose Grade-A chops are complemented by a remarkably sunny disposition.
In fact, he's become a sought-after bottom man for a boggling variety
of music makers. Melvin has toured with and served as musical director
for Chaka Khan, and he's also been on the road with Lee Ritenour, Larry
Carlton, Bryan Ferry, the Pointer
Buddy Miles. He's worked in the studio with many of these
artists and has racked up credits on everything from jingles to jazz to
country sessions. "It's weird," he says. "But I think I'm good at
seeing a situation for what it is and bringing whatever I can to it.
Most bassists who get hired for a lot of funk gigs don't turn up at
many jazz gigs, but I've been blessed with the chance to work jazz to
pop to TV to whatever. In fact, I used to get upset when people called
me a funk bass player, because I didn't want to be categorized; I'd
rather be thought of as a bass player who can play funk. I'm
happiest as a jack of all trades."
Being a happy jack means that Davis has become a master of adjustments,
able to fine-tune his playing from strict time to push-ahead groove to
behind-the-beat fatness. "For me, it's got everything to do with the
drummer. I've played with some of the greats, and they all feel
different. Some are sticklers for the groove, some are loose, and some
are tight. I take pride in adjusting to them; I'm flexible, and I like
to learn. I'm not set in my ways. If the drummer lays down a pocket,
I'll find it."
Not only does Davis take pride in being able to shape his abilities to
his musical circumstances, he sees no point in passing judgment as he
moves from genre to genre. "A lot of people say, 'Jazz is where it's
at,' and they turn up their noses at everything else. But is's all
music to me. There are people who love rock, so if I'm hired to play
rock, I try to make them love it even more. I'll wear my jazz hat, my
rock hat, my country hat - whatever's called for. I've got a closet
full of hats, and I like to wear them all."
Davis also has a closet full of
basses. He's been a Ken Smith enthusiast for a number of years, and he
owns a custom-built 5-string, eight custom 6's, and a pair of 7's, all
equipped with Smith's pickups and fitted with Smith's taper-wound
strings. Melvin favors a '70 Fender Jazz Bass. On the road, he runs his
basses through a Bag End rig that includes an ELF-1 Extended Low
Frequency Integrator and a pair of S18E-D loudspeaker systems. He
sometimes uses a volume pedal, digital reverb, or T.C. Electronic
chorus, but generally Melvin goes for pure bass presence. His sound is
even more pristine in the studio, where he tends to run his basses
directly in the board.
The 7-string looks entirely at home in Davis's hands these days, but
the instrument did have a rather unusual genesis. While on the road
with guitarist Ritenour, Melvin was having trouble falling asleep in a
hotel one night - and then a strange vision came to him: one with seven
strings. "It just popped into my head. I grabbed some paper and started
sketching it out, and hey - it started looking pretty good. I wrote
'Think about it' on the paper and faxed it to Ken." No stranger to
unusual custom requests, Smith took up the challenge. Starting with the
same dimensions as a 6-string, he worked out the logistics of the
headstock, doubled the strength of the neck's graphite reinforcement
rod, and made other adjustments. After a year of refinements, Smith
delivered the instrument to Davis. "I enjoy playing it, and I enjoy
expressing myself on it," Melvin says. "It's become a part of me."
Davis has been using the 7 to get some writing done; he's
hoping to develop an album project for Ritenour's label. He's
discovering that his writing has as much range as his resume - he's
come up with material that stretches from blues and R&B to hip-hop
and fusion. "Well, I can find something satisfying in whatever I'm
playing," he laughs. "I believe music is the ultimate communicator, so
I don't worry about the style. My main objective is for the music to
touch people. Communicating without saying a word - that's the best
Lee Ritenour has always carried the right credentials. Thursday,
playing at the Ash Grove on the Santa Monica pier, he lived up to them.
Angeles Times / Saturday,
January 25, 1997
Edition / Section: Calendar
REVIEW; Refined Ritenour Focuses On
KOHLHAASE SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
45-year-old, Hollywood-born Ritenour studied his craft early-on
with the likes of Joe Pass and Howard Roberts, and has a
well-publicized affinity for Wes Montgomery. As a studio heavy he's
played for everyone from composer Oliver Nelson and saxophonist Sonny
Rollins to Stevie Wonder and Barbra
Streisand. But Ritenour,
beginning with his breakthrough "Captain Fingers" release of 1977, has
also been heavily criticized in the jazz community for putting his
credentials aside to pursue fusion and instrumental pop. His reputation
as purveyor of soft, beat-minded jazz has persisted in recent years
despite the release of more ambitious albums, including 1992's
Montgomery-inspired "Wes Bound." Ritenour's Thursday appearance, the
first of three nights being recorded for a live album, demonstrated how
wrong it is to dismiss him as another easy-listening guitarist. The
two-hour program, spanning some 20 years of original material as well
as classics from Nelson and Montgomery, presented a more refined side
of Ritenour, one more focused on musical attractions rather than commercial appeal.
Though a number of his original songs moved to
accessible beats ("Night
Rhythms," "San Juan Sunset"), they contained melodic and harmonic
elements, as well as alert, inventive interplay from the sextet's
members, that made them more than simple exercises. The tunes propelled
by more involved rhythms ("Wes Bound," "Stolen Moments," a new,
as-yet-untitled acoustic piece), were even more deeply layered with
The bass-drums anchor of
Melvin Davis and Sonny Emory proved sturdy as it varied from hard
backbeat to cool swing rhythms. Davis proved particularly adaptable,
walking agilely on electric bass, stoutly on upright, then pounding out
saxophonist Bill Evans
serving as improvisational foil and dual keyboardists Barnaby Finch on
synthesizers and Alan Pasqua, soloing smartly on both acoustic piano
and organ, Ritenour played with confidence and lyrical spice,
emphasizing content over flash. Only at rare moments did he utilize
clean-cut, lickety-split runs and
those fell naturally into the flow of his play.
Ash Grove, better known as a home for
blues, roots and world-beat
music, served the music well. Its location above the breakers gives it
a traditional West Coast feel in the
beach-side tradition of the historic days of the Lighthouse and
Concerts by the Sea. It boasts good sight lines, intimacy and clean,
well-amplified sound. For the Ritenour show, a full house filled the
small tables crowded in front of the bandstand and the loft built over
the back of the room.
Time and again throughout history,
extraordinary individuals appear before the masses and lead by example
in times of strife. Some of these go on to claim a place in history,
enshrined by their legions with evocative, one-name handles.
Charlemagne, for example. Or Alexander, Augustus, Melvin.....Melvin?
Why not? Bassist Melvin Lee Davis is the musical director for both
Chaka Khan and Lee Ritenour, and while he's not the type to lead armed
troops into battle, that doesn't diminish the responsibilities of his
task. He's the one who deals directly with the name artists. He's the
one who realizes their vision by helping assemble the personnel for
each band. And he's the one who takes responsibility for keeping the
band in line and moving the performance forward.
He's also the one laying down the groove, so when it comes time to
lead, Davis relies on his Bag End D10BX-D 2x10 cabinet to back him up.
A single 2x10? Again, why not? "Who I am as a person has everything to
do with how I'm viewed (as the musical director) in these
organizations," he says, "but how I sound and the equipment I use says
something as well."
played through just about every other rig known to humankind, Davis was
introduced to Bag End's line a few years back when he was using all
sorts of different components from Various manufacturers. "They (Bag
End) told me about this ELF system back when I was using some other
gear," he recalls, "and they brought one to me at a show in Chicago."
That rig - consisting of an ELF-M integrator, an early 2x10, and two
S18E subwoofers in stereo - stirred Davis' soul with its delicious
low-end delivery yet still left him yearning for a certain something.
"I used that system onstage and I liked the rumble, but that 2x10 was
too shallow. I need lots of low end for club situations, but I wanted
to know that I could get it from a single 2x10 if I had to."
After speaking with the people at Bag End, Davis helped them design the
D10BX-D, which gave him the ability to break down his setup for gigs at
smaller clubs without sacrificing his sound. "There are lots of places
where I can't bring in this whole setup," he says. "Soundmen would be
frightened by it, like, "Whoa, this guy's got some subs'," he says
mockingly, "and some of them would hate my big system because there was
so much bottom coming off the stage. I've even done big arena shows
where the house soundmen complain, but that sound is what I love about
it. The sound is so huge, and I didn't want to give that up.
"I need to
know that I can get the punch and the low end from a single cabinet,
and now I can," Davis adds. "This system works so well together; it's
nice and clear, and I can take the 2x10 on its own into any club
situation and really push some air." With the assistance of a Crest
500-watt stereo power amp, Davis keeps the ELF-M set to a relatively
flat position, which lets his bass take advantage of the M's inherent
processing capabilities to give him the sound he needs. "The really
cool thing is that it's not colored," says Davis. "I don't use any EQ.
It comes from the bass and whatever comes out of the speaker."
is complete from top to bottom," he says. "I checked it out while I was
out on the road for eighteen months with Bryan Ferry, and I found what
combinations worked best for me. The D10BX-D is definitely the best
speaker system I've ever used. By far. It's a Rolls Royce; all the
others are Cadillacs."
Not one for
delving into the mysteries of signal processing and speaker technology,
Davis is somewhat in the dark as to the mechanics of how his system
works, but this doesn't temper his enthusiasm for its ability to give
him the right sound in every situation. "All the ELF cabinets are
sealed, which is really amazing to me because the bottom you get out of
the D10BX-D is incredible," he notes. "I don't know how they do it, but
they did it. I don't know much about the technical end of things, and
that's probably sad, but it's always been about the ear for me. If it
feels good and sounds great, that's it. This system is it, and I'm not
about coddling anyone; it's about being honest."
So with a firmly entrenched confidence that his equipment won't fail
him, Davis is comfortable serving as musical director for Khan and
Ritenour, with responsibilities to act as conduit to their respective
bands and allow each of his musicians to express his or her ideas.
"Musical directors are often used as mouthpieces for higher-ups, if you
will. It's my job to convey (Khan's and Ritenour's) ideas, and it's my
expectation that the musicians execute them," he says. By bringing the
best players together for each situation and allowing them to express
themselves without being a dictator, Davis ultimately functions as a
catalyst of talent, for leaders and backup band alike.
"I'm a big believer in not being the person who hires people so that I
can tell them what to do," he says. "All that's required is that you
have a love of the music. The bottom line is that it's all about the
music, and all you really need to do is have a passionate love for it
and come ready to play it. If I have to sit and tell you what to do
every day, you shouldn't be there. I can't play your instrument for
Musician Magazine_ Article by Mich
May 17, 1999
Is 'Smooth Jazz'?;
it's party music, as the packed crowd at the sixth annual Newport Beach
festival could tell.;
KOHLHAASE [SPECIAL TO THE TIMES]
Saturday's opening installment of
the Newport Beach Jazz Festival served to prove just how blurred the
designation of "smooth jazz" has become. This sixth annual celebration
of the music variously dubbed adult-contemporary or smooth jazz, held
on the grounds of the Hyatt Newporter hotel, featured a diverse lineup
that included a slick trumpeter, a churchgoing vocalist, a
flamenco-styled guitarist and a raunchy, R&B saxophonist.
Throw in a guitarist who quoted Jimi Hendrix, an electric keyboardist
with a sunny attitude and a singer of round-midnight standards, and you
begin to realize that smooth jazz can be anything and everything, a
term as nebulous as most musical categories. Above all, smooth
jazz is party music, geared for a good time. And Saturday's
headliners--guitarist Marc Antoine, trumpeter Rick Braun, vocalist
Oleta Adams, guitarist Lee Ritenour and saxophonist Dave Koz--succeeded
especially well in this respect.
shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on a gently sloping fairway on the Hyatt's
golf course was the largest and most enthusiastic in recent memory.
(This year's attendance was so large that by noon the parking lots
surrounding the Hyatt were closed and latecomers were directed to
Fashion Island parking, a 20-minute walk away.)
there was music on a second stage high atop a wind-swept hill from
keyboardist and Newport Beach resident Scott Wilkie's band or smoky
vocalist Jacqui Naylor's mainstream combo. Nearby, vendors of
food, drink, crafts and other services added to the carnival
atmosphere, and there was plenty of opportunity for mingling with
Today's smooth jazz
has its roots in the 1960s jazz-funk experiments of trumpeter Lee
Morgan, pianist Horace Silver and especially saxophonist Cannonball
Adderley. The 1999 edition of the Newport fest was at its best when it
recalled the spirit of those days.
led bands that embraced the same rhythm-and-blues influences that
Adderley and others once mined. Yet Braun, even in his best moments,
played second-rate Miles Davis, and his band lacked the
rhythmic sharpness that marked Miles' crossover ensembles. Koz is an
exciting visual player but had little new to say, though his band was a
degree tighter than the trumpeter's.
quibbles matter little under the bright sunshine in a garden setting,
with wine flowing freely and much of the audience on its feet grooving
with the band. Braun and Koz both ignited the crowd with
steady beats and emotive, if somewhat pretentious, play. The
tightest and ultimately most satisfying of the day's performances came
from guitarist Ritenour and a band that included saxophonist Eric
Marienthal and electric bassist Melvin Davis. Combing through 20 years
of material while throwing in allusions to Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and
Davis' "Tutu," Ritenour and company managed to keep the party going
full steam while providing some serious musical moments.
Earlier in the day, singer and
pianist Oleta Adams provided soul-stirring, Christian contemporary
numbers with an electric band that made the link between flesh and
spirit. She gave the day its most reflective moments with her
version of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday." On the
hilltop stage, keyboardist Wilkie's band played two sets of strongly
melodic, well-executed numbers that held smart solos from Wilkie,
guitarist Matthew Von Doran and bassist NathanBrown.
day's smoothest performance came from lounge vocalist Naylor, who,
swept by a steady breeze that blew sheet music off the stage, sang two
short mainstream sets haunted by the ghost of Billie Holiday with an
acoustic combo featuring saxophonist Bob Johnson.
Review : Doves Of Fire @ the Blue Note Tokyo
Lukather & Simon Phillips : Burning sound with the storm of
Lukather made a special unit w/ a band mate Simon Phillips, and they
played at all the Blue Notes in Japan.
are very popular as the member of TOTO's,
so most of
us might expected they play straight-ahead rock and roll, But they gave
us another happy surprise! Their shows were high-tech &
progressive fusion w/ no 8 beats tune!
It was about
15 min. before the show, the smell of incense came out from somewhere
-- it looked like comes from the stage --- and then I saw really
big drum sets on the stage. It's kind of usual setting at a
rock concert, but it was at a jazz club. As far as I know, that was the
time for the Blue Note to having a drum set w/ such a big china
drummer of the band is Simon Phillips, there's no wonder even if
more toms and gongs on the stage. He's been one of the top rock
drummer who played w/ Jeff Beck, Mich Jagger and many big artists, and
joined to TOTO after legendary drummer Jeff Porcaro. the frontman of
the band; Steve Lukather -- You guys don't need any explanation from me
about such a famous guitarist. He's started his career as a top session
guitarist, then he formed the band TOTO and keeping solid&huge
popularity for years. Needless to say, he also has played w/ Edgar
Winter or Larry Carlton at the Blue Notes.
is known as a very talented bass player who has played w/ Lee Ritenour,
Chaka Khan and many artists.
player; Jeff Babko has played w/ artists like Julio Igresias, and then
joined to Simon Phillips
as a new star player now.
expected they would play straight ahead rock and roll because of their
career. BUT! They made me surprise by very hard,
progressive&high-tech fusion! The show was just like attacked by
"the storm" of odd time tunes. As soon as Simon hit china gong
twice, Steve started to playing 9/8 beats arpeggio. Wow, it couldn't
be....! Is this song the title track of "Birds Of Fire"!?
thought Steve Lukather plays McLaughlin tune, so I leaned forward to
the sound unconsciously!
awesome solo even on this 9/8 beats( ! ) tune and I saw many audiences
amazed at it.
very powerfuly, and Melvin kept the groove tightly. oh the guys gave me
thrills of joy
on this song.
this song, I was thinking they play rock music and the 1st tune was
kind of a surprise for fans, but they played another tune from "Birds
Of Fire" as 3rd songs for the show, I was realized it was just what I'm
featured electric piano sound of Jeff Babko's mainly on "Miles Beyond",
his sensibility of
harmony works is wonderful.
played a solo on this tune -- i was really impressed by his technical
and inteligent sound on this solo.
break" w/ straight 4 beats on 4th song "Crosswind", heavy groove of
drums and bass was
very cool on this tune.
wildly, he jumped up and played on the table in the 1st row and made
enjoyed Steve's coolness on "Song For Jeff" from his 2nd album
to the title (this writer doesn't know this song is dedicated to Jeff
Porcaro.), He played w/ feed-backing very clevery and it reminds me of
Jeff Beck. Steve played this song perfectly and made his guitar sound
as if the guitar is singing. Simon Phillips played awesomely on
another tune from "Candyman", at first came up w/ powerful sound w/
twin bass drums in 17/8 beats, but it turned into 4 beats once piano
solo - guitar solo comes, and it was back to 17/8 beats and strong drum
solo came up!My mouth was widely opened w/ surprise and I couldn't
the show w/ one more tune from "Birds Of Fire" at that night. Wow they
played such awesome sound throughout the show.
Lukather & Simon Phillips -- I expected their great sound before
the show of course, But
those guys showed me ultra cool & better show than I expected!