Bassist Justin Gray Marries Tradition and Invention with the Bass Veena by Tatiana Kostiak… When Toronto bass musician Justin Gray hit a limitation in his quest to perfect the bass sound in the Indian Raga music he was studying, he moved on to a fretless bass. Two years later, the limitation of that instrument became evident. So, he took his commitment to a greater level. He invented his own bass instrument, the Bass Veena.
According to Justin: “The main goal was to achieve a very specific sound, feel and tuning, and with the sincere guidance and inspiration from Canadian Luthier, Les Godfrey, together we were able to create this instrument to achieve exactly what we set out to do.”
Gray has been studying and performing Hindustani Raga Music in its most traditional form for the past six years with his Guruji, Pandit Shantanu Bhattacharyya, a renowned Indian Classical Vocalist in Kolkata. “I study this music in the traditional vocal tradition, and then apply the music on the bass. Since this music has never been attempted to this depth in the traditional form on the electric or acoustic bass before, there is no tradition of tone, technique or set-up to follow in order to express the specific nuances of the Indian Classical style on this instrument. With the Bass Veena, I aim to continue to dive
deeper into learning this music in its exact tradition, and learning to express it on a new instrument, but while maintaining the essence of this ancient music, and playing in the traditional style.”
A total commitment of purpose brings Gray to India for long durations. “I was in India studying and performing for the past 6 months. My goal in my time in India is to be close to my Guruji and study in the traditional Indian style, living close to him, and staying immersed in my studies as a lifestyle and not as a pass time. This includes a very different relationship between the student and teacher, demanding unwavering dedication and respect from both parties. My goal was to study and learn as much as possible on the Bass Veena, and also to share this music through many performances with audiences around India.”
Touring India presents some challenges and Gray is just as precise about his touring gear as he is with his bass instrument and dedication to the music. “I have been a Radial user from the day I wanted better tone, and I still use them to this day because they are the best product out there. On my most recent tour in India, I had my PZ Pre, Pro RMP and Twin ISO with me for 6 months on the road. These three Radial products never let me down, which is quite a feat for gear on tour in India. Each time I used the PZ Pre, I was able to dial in a better tone each time, and the extra features like Post EQ Balance out, and Ground Lift were life savers with sound engineers that had no idea how to EQ my Bass Veena, and ground loops like I have never experienced before. On concerts where the ground loops were so bad I could not even use my amp on stage because of the hum and buzz, the PZ Pre let me still have a beautiful sound in the house and on stage, and was an all-in-one lifesaver. There was no compromise in tone at any point. The Pro RMP was so small, and it made my amp sound perfect on stage every night. It also had a ground lift, which gave me another level of reducing the many buzzes that happen in India. The TWIN ISO let me send my Bass Veena and my NS 4 String NXT Bass from my Logic Pro Set up to the house, as isolated channels in a box the size of a JDI. Thanks to these 2 small, durable and high quality pieces, the Bass Veena always sounded amazing, and all three of these were so durable, they never once even gave me a scare.”
When not studying and performing Raga music, Gray performs with Indo-Jazz group Monsoon and also with the group Army of Light whose style is described as contemporary, influenced heavily by jazz, western classical, T&B, Blues, Hip-Hop and otherworld music.