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Elvin Bironien – The Great Journey



French born Bassist/Composer Elvin Bironien is one of the most exciting bassist to happen onto the active World Music scene in recent years!

In November 2016, he released A Quest, and the collection of great music thereon is definitely amongst my favorite instrumental releases of 2016!

Elvin Bironien - The Great Journey-1Along with his group of young, hungry, big-eared musicians: Guitarist Ralph Lavital, Pianist Laurent Coulondre, and stunningly vital Drummer Pierre Alain Tocanier, Elvin accomplishes the near impossible feat of musical telepathy to offer up a masterpiece. The unison lines that season A Quest find the bassist and, in particular, monster guitarist Lavital, in an obviously ongoing conversation between musicians who have willingly entrained to a common vision. In fact, the entire outing functions as a picture of musicians listening deeply and conversing intimately with one another! A Quest was recorded at the House of Artists in Chamonix, and produced by André Manoukian.

a quest - Elvin BironienIf you’ve been fortunate enough to hear Elvin with FDH Trio, Conga Libre, Mamy Wata, or the wonderful Dorliz Trio, you will understand completely when I state that his continued use of the virtual melting pot of African/Caribbean melodies and rhythms that mark his compositions, coupled with a cool use of effects in order to articulate his conversational soloing style, is fully stated on his first full-length release as a leader, and the follow-up to the 2014 Jazz Family Label release Elvin P-leez 4tet 16 Mars.

Born on 26 September 1986 to multi ethnic parents Elvin began his instrumental education, at the age of 6-years-old, as a pianist. He then turned to percussion, and remained there until turning to the bass guitar at age 13. For the first several years of his bass studies, he remained completely self-taught. But in 2003, he enrolled in the Music Halle, in Toulouse, for 2 years of intense music education.

In 2005, he successfully auditioned for the bass spot with Pape N’Diaye and Pamaath in the afro-pop group Kaa, and launched his career as a sideman bassist with several touring and recording groups.In 2008 he co-founded the FDH Trio with pianist Thibaud Dufoy and drummer Arnaud Dolmen, which began his career as a composing and contributing member of a regular band. FDH performed at numerous concert events and the group also began competing in jazz band contests around France that included the winning of the Jazz Springboard Prize in Porquerolles, the 2010 National Jazz Competition in La Défense, Jazz Festivals On 31, Jazz in Millau, Souillac in Jazz, Jazz in the North, and the Afters Hours Duke of Lombard Competition. FDH won a 1st Prize at the Golden Jazz Trophy Jury Prize, which was chaired by Omar Sosa.

In 2012 FDH recorded their premier release Le Free du Hazard? with guest musicians: saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, percussionist Mino Cinelu and drummer/percussionist SonnyTroupe. At this writing, Elvin continues to participate in several World Music projects. The future looks bright for this incredible young player!

BAJ: Elvin! Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk with us at Bass Musician Magazine! A QUEST is a very exciting album, and I am anticipating a very good response from the listening world, once the record has been heard! Tell us about your process for composing music, and how you present that material to your band. Is the music complete? Or, do you allow each musician to translate your vision?

EB: Thank you for letting me to talk about it! I compose over a period of several consecutive days. Then, I dedicate focused time to develop one or more of the ideas. As I write everything from my bass, I first record chords and then add bass lines and any additional voice which helps me achieve the superstructure that I hear. Sometimes all the melody and harmony is already present in my mind and everything is going very fast! But, most of the time, I need to come back several times to my ideas – as I often set them aside for awhile, in order to re-think my direction. Sometimes I spend several hours on only 4 bars!

In general, I bring the musicians the most complete material possible in the form of audio model and partitions then I explain to them my vision precisely. For example, even some drum breaks are written but when they make me a proposal that will enrich my basic vision I am open and I take it into account. They each have a strong personality, but they manage to put their involvement and energy into the service of the composition Also, they have free reign to perform their solos!

BAJ: Your use of harmony is very impressive! How do you decipher and navigate the tight intervals that are throughout your compositions?

EB: In fact, I purposely do not put a theoretical barrier upon myself when I compose. I think, it is my self-taught side that makes it easier to think this way. So, some chord sequences may seem quite complicated, because they are very personal to my tastes… But, in the end, I do not think it is so very difficult.

BAJ: Talk with me about your soloing concept!

EB: Over time I tried to develop my own phrases and refine my style. My purpose is being recognized after only few notes. My solos are also very related to the musicians I play with. In any case, I think it is difficult to tell a true story that makes sense while being original and without making a prepared musical direction.

Elvin Bironien - The Great Journey

BAJ: Your unison work with both Ralph and Grégory is fantastic! How much conversation goes into the lines you are playing together? Also, there seems to be a deep sense of togetherness and shared sense of humor. Do you find that important?

EB: I think there is a lot of listening between us, and our common musical vocabulary allows us to dialogue. I also try to write compositions while thinking of the musicians who play with me. The unity and the humor are the reflection of our complicity in the life and, yes, I think it is absolutely primordial for the music to be alive.

BAJ: You began your bass studies from a self-taught perspective. What were you listening to, musically, that directed you toward studying at the Musical Halle School?

EB: At 13, or 14 years old, I studied the bass lines of the artists I loved and that helped me to develop my memory and my ear. At the time, I listened to artists (and groups) like The Police, James Brown, Rage Against The Machine, Bob Marley, the rhythm section work of Sly and Robbie, and the Great Jaco Pastorius – who is the only jazz artist I loved at the time. At home my father listened to a lot of jazz or artists like Frank Zappa for example and it has enormously influenced me subconsciously. My mother advised me to take classes That would present me with things I did not know.

BAJ: What were your most invaluable lessons from your formal education?

EB: I was very immature, and stubborn, and I did not really know how to take advantage of it at the time. It was afterwards that I understood certain bases of harmonies and analysis of listening that I acquired while at school. It also allowed me to meet several good musicians with whom I have subsequently played including an excellent pianist who hired me for his trio and with whom I learned a lot about harmony and jazz music.

Elvin Bironien - The Great Journey-2BAJ: You have worked in African-based World Music for some time. How has that helped you grow as a musician?

EB: Yes! Especially music from West Africa and Maghreb! The incredible rhythmic richness of these musics where tradition is very important has made me discover rhythmic flows and placements that I could never have imagined or understood alone. I can’t consider myself a specialist because it would take years of work… but it clearly influenced my playing, especially in how I support other musicians.

BAJ: How do you achieve your bass tone? What type of gear are you using? Finally, what is your ideal bass tone, and how would you achieve that?

EB: I think it comes, mainly, from the fingers and how I approach articulation. I also feel that personal tone is inexplicable, a bit like a human voice. When I listen to my first recordings, when I was playing lower quality instruments, I could already hear my sound except that the instruments could not respond as precisely as my current basses.             I have collaborated with the French Luthier COMBE for 3 years and I am really a fan of his work. The two basses played on the album were made by him. In addition, I often use pedals, like an octaver, (Electro Harmonix) Q-tron, or a reverb Toneprint. I also like Aguilar very much for amplification.

Currently, I think I’m very close to the sound I’m looking for. It is possible that it has evolved over time. But, I also like the change! So, if I play a P-bass for a project that requires this type of sound I find it very interesting.

BAJ: I am very excited for the next release! When can we expect more from you?

EB: I have already composed several new songs, and I am thinking about the next release. But, for now, I am not in a hurry. I want to make this album exist as much as possible. So, I do not think I’ll be back in studio until 2018.

BAJ: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! How has becoming a father affected your musical life?

EB: Thank you very much! What happiness! My daughter Soa is only 3 weeks old! So, it is really early to see the direct impact on my musical life, yet! But, she brings me a lot of joy, and I think it is felt in my playing.

BAJ: Please tell us about your practice regimen, and those factors you feel are most important to your musical articulation.

EB: I do not practice exercises every day. But, I am always playing the bass! When I was younger, I listened a great deal Jaco or the (Gerald Veasley, Richard Bona, Matthew Garrison, Victor Bailey, Étienne M’Bappé and Linley Marthe) lines of the Zawinul Syndicate! I also worked hard to exploit my skills to their maximum and refine them. I work on scales and arpeggios every day.

BAJ: Let’s talk about your very nice interpretation of The Police tune, “Tea in the Sahara”.

EB: The mystical atmosphere of the original version inspired me a lot. As I do not have the vocal talent of Sting, I wanted to be able to articulate the emotion of singing with my fretless bass. I chose a fretless bass to give a softer side to the vocal interpretation, and I did not want to touch the overall harmony of the song, but I allowed myself to incorporate a short melodic theme in the introduction. The piano also brings a lot of poetry to the version.

BAJ: Where can we listen to and purchase your other recorded materials?

EB: My first EP was released in 2014; it is available on all legal download platforms.

BAJ: Who are your musical influences?

EB: Not easy to choose but I can definitely site: Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, Ultramarine, and many Caribbean artists like Mario Canonge, Sakésho, Marius Cultier, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Havana D’ Primera.

At the moment I am listening to a lot Kneebody, Walter Smith 3, Wayne Krantz, and Terence Blanchard. As far as bassists… Jaco Pastorius, Richard Bona, Linley Marthe, Michel Alibo, Anthony Jackson, Hadrien Feraud, Etienne Mbappé, John Patitucci, and Christian McBride are important players.

BAJ: What have you never been asked in an interview that you would like to be asked?

EB: That question! (Laughs)

BAJ: Thank you for the release of A QUEST! It is a beautiful statement, and I look forward to hearing more from you! Thank you, again, for taking the time to talk with us!

EB: My pleasure.

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Gear News: Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists



bassist marc browstein

Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

Bergantino Shares: The innovative bassist/sonic explorer/DJ Marc Brownstein discusses his life of touring with Disco Biscuits, the current tour with the new album “Revolution in Motion, and more!

By Holly Bergantino

Marc Brownstein is the king of “Trance-Fusion” – a subgenre that his band Disco Biscuits has been in the center of for the past two decades. As a founding member of the band from their days at UPenn, Marc has quite the experience under his belt, and each tour has gotten more and more exciting. Disco Biscuits is currently on tour with their new album Revolution in Motion, a full multimedia experience accompanied by a 25-minute animated film that tells a story of intergalactic travelers finding their way on Earth. 

D. J. Brownie! What made you want to be a musician and start playing bass and who drew you to it? 

I was drawn to music after John Lennon was assassinated. I was raised in NYC and the city was just going crazy. I was 7 years old at the time and my thought was, wow why is everyone freaking out so much, this guy must be really special. And so I started to check the Beatles out and that was the beginning of my journey with music.  

A question from one of your fans and fellow bass players Karina Rykman: “How do you keep your bubble of positivity intact and thriving”?

Well it’s funny she should ask. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the run of positivity we are experiencing now began right at the beginning of tour at the beginning of January 2023 when we had Karina opening for us for a week. I can say that her positive energy on tour definitely left its mark on the rest of our tour. Some people are so naturally happy and positive that it leaves you feeling that way, sometimes permanently! 

Besides the bass guitar, what other instruments do you play? 

I dabble with piano, guitar, and I can make my way around a drum kit if I get into it for a few weeks. I’ve played flute and saxophone as well at different times. I also play the double bass. But I would say Piano is my second instrument at this point. I play everyday. 

What is your favorite (and least favorite) thing about touring? 

The best part of touring is the 4 hours on stage with the band. But also getting to visit so many great places all of the time. That’s the silver lining.  The only thing I don’t love about touring is missing my family. 

Tell us about your first music teacher. What lesson did you learn from this person and still use today? 

My first music teacher, Mrs. Koslov, 2nd grade, I just was at her funeral a few weeks ago. I eventually became best friends with Mrs Koslov’s son and we stayed in touch for my whole life. She taught me a lot but really she was the one who gave me the courage to perform. My first public performance ever was a piano version of Eleanor Rigby. 

What was the first bass you had? 

This is tough. I think I had a standard Ibanez jazz style bass first. Within a year or two I got an American Fender Jazz bass. 

What are the basses you have and use now? 

My main bass is an Elrick 5 string by Rob Elrick. I also have a Q5 Modulus and an Alembic 5 as well. Oteil (Burbridge) sent me a Roscoe custom 6 during the Pandemic that I like to play. I also have a Sire Marcus Miller, a newer American Fender Jazz bass, a custom Ibanez SDGR, an Ibanez BTB and an Elrick 5 string Fretless bass which is my main bass at home. 

Who were the musicians who inspired you and what qualities do you admire about them? 

I was deeply influenced by Phish when I discovered them in college. I admired their ability to mesh jazz, classical and rock Improvisational styles. I was very inspired by classic jazz musicians. Miles. Monk. Coltrane. Dexter Gordon. Cannonball Adderly. Mingus. This is the generation of musicians that laid the groundwork for what we do now. 

You studied and started the band Disco Biscuits at UPenn. Tell us more about the origins. 

The band just sort of linked up in the quad (dormitory) and we started to set up our gear and jam for fun. Within a short time I realized the guys I was playing with were really talented and so I applied to the New School for jazz and went and spent a year crash coursing music at a high level so I could return to Penn and start a band with them. 

You have a new album “Revolution in Motion,” that you’re currently touring on. How is it going? 

The tour has been amazing. It’s one of the best tours we ever had in our career. We sold out more than half of the shows and are receiving really great feedback across the country. 

I watched the video on YT for Revolution in Motion. The Choreography, production, color, cartoon characters, and theme were so much fun. Space aliens and psychedelic art, pop ups like a comic book, and you in your alien jump suit with your baseball cap were amazing. Loved! How was this collaborated?  

We have a co-writer on this project named Joey friedman. He conceived of the concept for the album and he had a very specific vision for what the visuals would look like. He spent hours and hours with the animators (Blunt Action) and the AI animator (Todd Kushnir) working through each iteration to make it come to life in the way that it was conceived. 

How would you describe the music you create for Disco Biscuits? 

We always hoped that the music we created would be the weirdest and craziest music of all time but we describe it as Trance-Fusion, which was a name that was drawn from jazz-fusion, the mixing of jazz with rock and roll instruments. We found our own sound by mixing trance music with rock and roll instruments, hence the genre title. It was renamed jamtronica many years later by the folks over at SiriusXM who started a radio show called the Jamtronica show to highlight acts from our scene. I was the host of that show for the first 3 years. 

Describe the creative process when you write new music. 

These days the creative process is a team effort. Usually we start by combing through improvisational sections of music from the tours to see if we can find any melodies or chord structures that are song worthy. When we find it we bring it into our DAW (ableton) and creating a grid. This is easy for us because we often play to a time clock on stage. From there we start building out the structures of the new piece of music while Joey and maybe me or Aron or Jon will start working on some lyrical concepts. Within an hour or two we start to record some of these initial lyrics and melodies and Jon usually starts to adapt them and tweak them to make them comfortable for him to sing. Usually within a few hours we are able to walk away with a very advanced demo of a new song. It’s been an extremely fruitful experience that has left us with albums worth of the best material we’ve had in decades. 

The lighting for your shows is amazing. Who does the lighting design work and choreography for the tours? 

Our new LD is known as Herm, but his name is Alex. We know him as Herm though. He came to us from the band Twiddle at the beginning of this year and has totally revitalized the visual elements of the stage show. He’s a really great fit and we feel grateful to have been linked up with such a massive talent. It was luck and timing and some might call it fate. 

How would your bandmates describe you? 

My bandmates would probably describe me as energetic and talkative and headstrong but also they might notice that I’ve become really good at going with the flow and backing their creative instincts. They may further describe me as anxious and nervous but may also notice that these elements have been remediated of recent. Mostly I think they would describe me as loyal and dedicated. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio systems? 

I was first introduced to it by Ed Grasmeyer who I know as Mike Gordon’s tech in Burlington. I was playing a show at Nectars and needed a backline and Ed came and set me up with the ForteHP2 and I was blown away by the tone. I then noticed Karina Rykman was using Bergantino as well and that’s when I started to think I needed to get in contact with the company. Karina was opening for the Biscuits on Boston and that’s where I had the chance to demo the forte hp2 in the context of the biscuits stage show. I haven’t looked back since that night. 

Tell us about your experience with the Forté HP2 on the tour? 

There are so many things that I can say about it but the most notable is that I’m not struggling to hear the frequencies that I want to hear on stage anymore. I used to have to boost the bass everywhere. In an EQ pedal, on the preamp on the actual bass. But every time you add a little of those low frequencies in those other places you risk degrading the tone of the signal. With the Forte HP2 there is a punch button that gives me exactly the frequency I’m looking for. 100 hz. 4 db. It’s perfect. 

Did you think Jim talked too much when you met him in Boston? 

I will never notice when someone talks too much because chances are I’m out talking them. 

What’s your process for dealing with performance anxiety? 

I used to self-medicate for this purpose but I was recently in touch with a psychiatrist who has helped me regulate my own chemical imbalances and I have found that my performance anxiety isn’t really an issue when I have the proper amount of dopamine in the system! 

Imagine that you’re at a party and it’s a little stale. What’s the “party trick” (or hidden talent) that you’d bust out to liven the place up? 

Before the app existed I was known as a real life fruit ninja. I take a big knife and people throw fruit from across the room and I chop it in half in mid-air. It’s not the safest party trick anymore because I lost vision in my right eye a few years ago and I’m not as accurate as I used to be! 

What hobbies do you have outside of music? 

I love sports. I love reading. I love word games. I love gardening. I love hiking/running/moving. My biggest hobby was snowboarding for many years but I’ve grown injury prone and stay off the mountain these days. 

What is the most trouble you ever got into? 

Well, I managed to stay out of trouble until college. But before weed was legalized I had a series of run-ins with the law and spent a night in the clink in Amherst Mass during my freshman year fraternity pledge trip. Luckily this isn’t an issue anymore for those of us who don’t drink or smoke cigarettes but prefer a little of the wacky tabacky to cool down. 

What is the message you would give to your fans? 

Well I give them so many messages all the time but the most important one that I try to remember to keep constant is a message of gratitude. Thank you so much for sticking with us through thick and thin, through ups and downs, for decades now you have allowed us to live our dreams and have the most blessed lives possible. 

How do you feel social media has impacted your music? 

Social media is a double edged sword. It has allowed us to create a strong community where everyone feels like a family but for someone like me who gets addicted to things easily, I really have to be vigilant with practice and writing and other aspects of my life not to spend the whole day scrolling and wasting the time away. 

What is your favorite song of all time? 

Right now my favorite song of all time is probably a short and beautiful little ditty by Labi Siffre called Bless the Telephone. I would suggest everyone take the 1:29 to listen to it and feel the bliss. 

What did I miss for a question that you would like to share? 

Bass players don’t really get to play solo shows, at least not my style of bass, so I’ve had to learn how to DJ in order to perform by myself at times and I would suggest coming out to see a DJ Brownie show at some point. 

Last one! Describe your perfect meal! 

I love to eat great meals. I’m partial to Asian foods but the perfect meal to me is one slice of pizza from Freddie and Peppers on 72nd and Amsterdam in NYC. PERFECTION. 

Follow Marc Brownstein:
Instagram: @marcbrownstein
X (formerly Twitter): @marc_brownstein

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Interview Wity Bassist Curly Hendo

Bassist Curly Hendo…

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Join me as we learn about Curly’s musical journey, how she gets her sound, and her plans for a very bright future.

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank



Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

Bassist Derek Frank…

Many of you will remember the last time I chatted with Derek Frank was back in 2017. The main thing that impressed me was how busy Derek was and how he juggled playing with many huge acts.

Now, I am happy to hear that Derek launched a new album last March titled “Origin Story” where he digs deep into his roots and pays homage to Pittsburg.

Join me as we get caught up after all these years and hear the details about the new album, how Derek gets his sound, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Stephen Bradley

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Bassist Graham Stanush…

Return to Dust is keeping Grunge alive and well! They have a new self-titled album that went out on May 3rd, 2024 and will be super busy promoting this project in the near future.

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Interview With Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes



Interview With Bassist Erick Jesus Coomes

Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes…

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Join us as we hear of his musical journey, how he gets his sound, his ongoing projects, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Bob Forte

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FB @lettucefunk

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