Upright bassist and composer Adam Ben Ezra is one of several contemporary artists that have brought the instrument to the fore, showcasing its compelling sound and versatility in a lead role. With innovative playing, processing and looping, Ezra places the cumbersome acoustic beauty at the heart of his setup, but it’s in face just one of many instruments important to his creative expression. Ahead of his performance at Band on the Wall on 9th February, we caught up with him to discuss his forthcoming album, Hide and Seek, his relationship with music technology, and what we can hope to take away from his show.
We’re excited to hear your new album, Hide and Seek, when it’s released in March. We’ve heard two contrasting and beautiful tracks so far in Downtown Blues and Tumbada — what can we expect from the rest of the material?
ABE: ‘Hide and seek combines so many different flavors: from funky grooves to emotional middle eastern melodies, all kinds of electronic aspects like beats and synth sounds and all that jazz 🙂. With this in mind, my producer (Issac Dabomb) and I aimed to mix all of these different flavors into a coherent sound so that all of the songs will blend perfectly with each other.’
You’re very accomplished at incorporating music technology into your setup: with loop pedals, MIDI keyboards, and effects to change the character of the double bass. Can you tell us about some of the gear you’re currently using and how it aids your creative expression?
ABE: ‘In the past two years I transformed my gear, instead of using multi-effects and looping pedals I now connect my bass into a computer. I use ‘Live’ software by Ableton and control it with my midi keyboard and foot controllers. With this setup I can loop anything I want: my bass, voice and all kinds of beats, synths and samples. I use a plugin called TH3 for adding all kinds of effects to my bass so it can sound like any instrument I choose: electric guitar, synth sounds or even tabla. These endless options enable amazing diversity and transform the whole experience of a one man show.’
As a multi-instrumentalist, have you found that there are transferable skills you picked up as a student of the bass, that have made adding piano, clarinet, oud and other instruments to your repertoire a natural process?
ABE: ‘Playing the bass definitely helped me to learn quickly how to play the Oud, since it’s a string instrument and fretless, like the bass. I started playing the piano actually many years before playing the bass at the age of 7 but the wind instruments came much later when I was 25. I think that the practice system and discipline I developed in the years I studied the bass really helped to speed up the learning process of the clarinet and flute. What is more interesting is how playing other instruments actually benefit my bass playing since I implement the techniques I learn from these instruments onto the bass which expand the spectrum of sounds I can gain. I heard a story about someone once asking Chick Corea: “If I want to be a better pianist, what should I do?” His answer was: “Learn how to drum.”’
As a 21st century artist, what inspires your creativity? Do you find that the things we associate with modern society: smart phones, social media, the 24 hour news cycle etc. are a creative help or hindrance?
ABE: ‘Creative people inspire me the most, whether they are musicians, other kinds of artists, speakers, or entrepreneurs. The 21st century has given us amazing access to all the creativity that can be found in any corner of the globe, so I can be inspired on a daily basis only by using my phone which is amazing. Social media can be a great tool for communicating with the audience, releasing new materials, promoting shows and allows you to receive an immediate response. On the other hand it requires you to be “connected” all the time and that can be pretty demanding.’
If you were tasked with curating an international upright bass festival, and given a bottomless budget to bring together artists who showcased the breadth of the instrument’s sonic possibilities — its history and its contemporary application — who would you book?
ABE: ‘For this kind of festival I would most probably invite: Stanley Clark, Renaud Garcia Fons, Avishai Cohen, Francois Rabbath, Gary Karr, Lee Rocker and John Patitucci. These are the major ones I can think of right now, but I’m sure there are few more that can be added to the list.’
When fans see you on your Hide and Seek tour, what kind of show can they expect? Will you be playing solo with your technology, or will other musicians be involved as well?
ABE: ‘I’m going to deliver a solo show full of different and surprising elements. Besides the bass I’m going to play the piano, flute, clarinet and I’m going to sing as well. In some of my shows I like to spice it up with local musicians playing as guests, so anybody from Manchester who is interested can send me a link to their music and who knows, maybe a cool collaboration will come from it.’