Bassless by Tom Herbert
"I am a bassist and I love the bass, so choosing ten pieces of music without bass might seem a bit odd. However, contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily all about the bass... Just as the samurai finds freedom in imagining themself as already dead, I find it helpful to occasionally remember that there is music without bass… "
1. Prince - When Doves Cry (1984)
"Prince is one of my favourite musicians of all time and this is such a brilliant, iconic piece of music. It’s so funky but it also manages to feel deeply intimate, not something I would usually associate with funk music. Sexy, maybe, but not intimate. When Doves Cry is both. Maybe it’s the fact that, for most of the song, it’s just vocals and an electronic drum beat. When any other sounds or instruments come in they have so much impact. If there was a bass jostling around, vying for attention, I think it would lose that intimacy. I played this song once on a gig and ended up just trying to make my bass sound like a drum because it didn’t feel right to play a bass line."
2. Paul Motian Trio - It Should’ve Happened A Long Time Ago (1993)
"I love this group so much. I heard that they became a trio when the bass player couldn’t make it to a rehearsal and they decided it sounded better without bass. It was a good decision.
I think my favourite recording of them is a live session I have on cassette. I’ve had it for years and I don’t know if I recorded off the radio myself or if someone gave it to me. I’ve no idea what the tunes are or when and where it’s from, but it’s incredible. However, when I think of this trio I think of this piece. It encapsulates everything I love about them, the beautiful, haunting melodies, the sounds, the space, the otherworldly atmosphere, the interplay and cohesion that seems to occur despite all of them seemingly doing their own thing, the sense that Paul Motian was never concerned about playing what was expected of him."
3. Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Ragman & The Junkman Ran From The Businessman They Laughed & Cried (1971)
“I love the raw energy of the way Rahsaan plays this. It feels so good. The fact that he’s playing all those horns at once means it’s never going to sound like a conventional horn section. It really is its own thing, its own sound. And it’s not careful. It’s so alive.
Music like this reminds me it’s ok to be human, rather than this idea of perfection we’re presented with on social media or through the modern recording tools we have that allow us to edit, tune, quantise and clean up our performances in a vain attempt to realise the idea of what we think we should be rather than what we actually are."
4. Joao Gilberto - Águas de Março (1973)
"Pure beauty. This is a beautiful song anyway and the way he phrases and pulls the melody around is a work of art."
5. Ellery Eskelin Trio - The Dance of Maya (1999)
"This Mahavishnu Orchestra piece was my first introduction to this trio and it blew my mind. I’d never heard the accordion played like this before. It blends so well with Ellery Eskelin’s tenor sax and there’s so much room for Jim Black’s incredible drumming. Despite being played on acoustic instruments, this feels as heavy and intense as any electric group, maybe more."
6. Human Chain - Death (1986)
"This track found its way onto nearly every mixtape I made for friends, back when people still made mixtapes rather than playlists. It’s from Django Bates and Steve Argüelles’ first Human Chain album. For their second album, ‘Cashin’ In’, they added Stuart Hall on bass, guitar and violin and I love that album too, but there’s something special about this first album where it’s mainly just the two of them.
I’m a sucker for a slightly wobbly Vangelis-style cosmic synth pad sound and this track has it in bags, plus Steve’s wonderful drumming that somehow sounds both electronic and acoustic at the same time. Death… Is this what it sounds like when you die? I hope so."
7. Robert Stillman - All Are Welcome (2019)
"Robert is one of my favourite musicians and people. We first met in 1999 when he was visiting London from the US in his college summer break and came to the jam session I was hosting as part of Tomorrow’s Warriors. Robert, Tom Skinner and I played a few times together at Tom’s house that summer and then he returned to the States and I had no contact with him for years until Tom discovered that he was living in Kent. We reconnected and we’ve been playing together ever since.
His albums Rainbow and Reality are two of my favourite albums of the last few years. They’re essentially solo albums, but even though Robert plays all the instruments himself, overdubbing them one by one, he somehow makes it sound incredibly spontaneous and interactive. There is deep beauty and feeling in Robert’s music. Plus you have to admire a guy who makes a video where he does burpees for the duration of the whole song while a group of other Roberts play along. I love the idea that this could be considered workout music. In a parallel universe there are gyms where people workout to Robert’s music and Ornette Coleman albums."
8. David Torn - Prezens (2005)
"I saw this band at the Vortex around the same time this video was shot. I’d never heard of David Torn before, but I knew about Tom Rainey, Tim Berne and Craig Taborn and loved their playing, so I thought I’d go along. I wasn’t prepared for how great this gig would be. It was one of those lightbulb moments where I realised that it was possible to combine improv, jazz, electronica and experimental rock music into one unique entity. David Torn is now one of my favourite guitarists and a go-to reference whenever I need effects pedal inspiration. The sounds he can conjure are incredible and so inspiring."
9. John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen (1948)
"When I was growing up I was obsessed with the blues. The twelve bar blues was the first chord sequence I was taught in my music class at primary school. I spent hours sitting at the piano playing that sequence, trying to improvise over it with the blues scale. Then when I went to secondary school I started learning guitar and started a band and inevitably played lots the blues (before we discovered the immortal ‘funk jam in E’). However, no one wanted to play the bass, so, in order to have a proper band, I decided I would be the bass player. Of course, that was before I realised that you don’t necessarily need to have a bass in a band…
I didn’t have a lot of recordings of the blues, but this song was on a blues mixtape a school friend made for me. I listened to it all the time. It was the first time I’d heard John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Dr John. Mixtapes were our Spotify in those days. That was how I discovered so much music. I had a geography teacher, Mr Henley, who knew I was into music and would make tapes for me of things I hadn’t heard before. He was the person who first introduced me to Parliament Funkadelic. The best thing about mixtapes was that they were personal. You’d always tailor them to the person it was for. You can’t really do that with Spotify. You won’t rediscover an old Spotify playlist in your cupboard twenty years later.
Anyway, Boogie Chillen isn’t a conventional blues song, in that it doesn’t follow what is generally considered the blues sequence. Most of this piece is based around a repeated guitar riff. It feels like the blueprint for so much music that has happened since this was recorded in 1948. Apparently this was the riff that inspired Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy and Albert Collins (and I’m sure many others) to play guitar, so that might actually be true."
10. Fulborn Teversham - Amazing (2007)
"This song is called Amazing and it is. I love it for many reasons.
Firstly, I think it’s a great song. I love Sebastian Rochford’s compositions. He has such an individual way of writing. His tunes always feel very instinctive and unforced.
Secondly, apart from being amazing musicians, everyone in this band is very important to me and have all been very influential in shaping me into who I am today.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Alice Grant, who is the singer in Fulborn Teversham, is also my wife. The first time I had a proper conversation with her was at the recording of this album, when I came by the studio to pick something up from Seb. And the rest is history (well, my history, at least). So I have Fulborn Teversham to thank for that. I think her vocal performance on this is incredible. The juxtaposition of the words with the delivery is heartbreakingly painful and hilarious at the same time. The tension of not saying what you are really feeling… somehow quintessentially British. She nails it."