Longtime musical partners explore entrancing grooves and soundscapes on latest project, Electric Blue.
After nearly 50 years of playing music together, going back to their days as students at the University of Miami through their years of touring and recording as members of the original Pat Metheny Group, with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra, exploring new tones and textures with their band Elements and heading up their own individual projects, bassist Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb have forged an indelible chemistry that transcends time and notes on a page. On their first-ever duo recording, Electric Blue, the longtime musical partners showcase their rare empathy in a revealing stripped-down setting of just drums and bass.
As Gottlieb explained, “The duo music contained in this recording reflects our 49-plus years of friendship and our musical adventures together. In your musical life, and especially if you are a rhythm section player, you sometimes get lucky to find a musical partner with whom you connect immediately on the deepest level. It’s even more amazing when that person turns out to be a best friend. That is the relationship I have had with Mark since we met at the University of Miami in 1971.”
From the entrancing “Back and Forth” to the jauntily swinging “Cabareté,” the loping, lazy groover “Down the Road, the rubato soundscape “Blue Sound Bath,” the visceral funk of “Hookey” and the meditative closer “Offering,” Egan and Gottlieb showcase the results of their long musical partnership. With Egan’s distinctive singing fretless bass carrying the melodies and his layers of overdubbed fretted basses providing the harmonic content and Gottlieb shifting gears intuitively from ultra-sensitive (as on the stirring improv piece “Come What May” or the airy “Offering”) to all-out slamming mode (as on “Hookey” and the exhilarating title track), the interactive team can turn on a dime while evoking myriad spirits along the way.
“For this new recording, we wanted to document our rapport as a duo team,” said Egan of Electric Blue. “When you look at the definition of rapport, it’s ‘a harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.’ That perfectly describes how we interact as a duo.”
Weighing in on his drumming partner Gottlieb, Egan said, “Danny’s technique is incredible, which I think comes from having studied with the great Joe Morello [Dave Brubeck’s longtime drummer who was immortalized by his famous “Take Five” solo on the 1959 classic, Time Out]. He’s just got this masterful facility with his hands. But he also studied with Gary Chester [world renown New York session drummer] working on hand and foot independence. And when he combines both of those aspects of playing, he has the facility to go anywhere on the kit. So if I start to play something, he can triple it up or quadruple it up or perfectly underscore it with his tremendous musical facility. Danny has a rare combination of masterful technique and remarkable musicality.”
Recorded live at Electric Fields Studio in Connecticut over three days in June of 2019, with additional overdubbing and mixing taking place until December of 2019, Electric Blue traverses different moods, key centers, dynamics, and tempos for the two partners to negotiate.
Gottlieb explained the evolution of his duo chemistry with bassist Egan. “While playing in Pat Metheny’s band during the late 1970s, we traveled frequently to Japan, and Mark and I often would stop in Hawaii on the return trip. While there we would stay in Kauai, right on the ocean, with our friend Gina. We would play music in her living room, playing free while listening to the ocean in the background and would also play late into the night out in a valley overlooking the ocean, offering up sound waves and grooves for our friends, and to the gods! By 1982, we started the group Elements and that first album reflected many of the feelings captured during those Hawaii trips. We also started playing duo gigs and found that in the right environment, the combination of bass and drums could be magical.”
Added Egan, “Some of the things that Danny and I are acutely aware of whenever we’ve played together is the importance of the groove, listening and reacting to the entire ensemble and the use of dynamics. During our time together playing with the Pat Metheny Group there was a focus on dynamics as a compositional tool. Musicians at times forget about using dynamics in their own playing whether it be soloing or grooving. Danny and I are aware of dynamics and we instinctually utilize them when we’re playing together.”
Electric Blue documents the same empathetic spirit between the two players.
As Egan said, “I think there’s a special thread that goes through all of our playing on the records and projects that we’ve done. Whenever we get together, just drums and bass, it always seems to have a complete musical sense to it. We know each other’s playing so well that if one of us plays one note or a certain phrase the other one’s right on it and can either complement it or lead it into a new place. It’s a very special rapport and this is the first time we’ve recorded a complete project of it. It was so much fun recording creative music in the studio as a duo.”