A Chat with Edo Castro by Martin Simpson.
Lisa Star, the Principal of Passion Star Records, recently sent me a package containing your 10 track, second solo effort, Phoenix, which runs for just under 62 minutes. What I’d like to do is to have a chat with Edo about this disc.
Here is the interview that ensued…
Martin: How long did the project take from conception to final mixing?
Edo: I started working on this project as soon as my first CD Edo was completed. That first CD took 7 years to make. I didn’t want to let another 7 years go by so I wanted to strike while the iron was hot. From start to finish, Phoenix took approximately 1 year. The project almost didn’t make the light of day but with the help of Producer/Engineer Ray Cooper and Lisa Star, the project was resurrected. That’s the main reason for the title. Besides I love the name Phoenix.
Martin: Is Phoenix a quantum jump forward from your first album? Is this album a quantum leap forward?
Edo: I don’t think so. If anything Phoenix represents ideas that were percolating during those 7 years. Much of the music on Phoenix came about through experimentation using my Conklin Midi bass and various texture building with the use of effects pedals. My first release hinted at this. But more so, Phoenix is perhaps more introspective and quiet in mood. Some people gave me flack for the lack lustre in the chops department. No flashy speedy songs here. Fast speedy playing is something I didn’t go for. It’s always been about melody, mood, and feeling.
Martin: How does the music make you feel?
Edo: If you put this music on you’re not about to throw a wild party but it may encourage you to sit quietly and enjoy letting your mind wander or sit with a friend and let it be a soundtrack in the background. I also wanted the listener to forget they’re hearing a bass player and transition into hearing compositions. As I said before, I’m a composer who happens to play bass.
Martin: I first got to know you through Lee Barker who makes his own Barker Bass, electric fretted upright instrument. I noticed that you didn’t use one of his instruments on the album. Instead, you used various ERBs made by Conklin (your favourite manufacturer). Could you give us a bit of info about the basses you used on the project?
Edo: Lee Barker is a wonderful friend, builder and a visionary. During the making of Phoenix I was focusing on what “my sound” is and how it’s created. Despite my love of Lee’s instruments and sound, the ERB 7 string bass is where I have settled in. I cleared my closet of anything with less than 7 strings and stopped trying to be the all-inclusive sounding bassist. To find my voice I had to let go of preconceived notions of what I thought I should be doing as a bassist. I decided that I can’t be everything to everyone by playing acoustic bass, electric upright, etc. It’s a difficult choice to give up particular avenues of employment when you stop being versatile in your array of bass sounds and focus in on who you are as an artist. I once had a great variety of basses for any occasion. Now my collection is small and quite specific to my needs. My Conklin basses have been the backbone of this experimentation and self- realization. The Conklin bass on the cover of Phoenix is an 8 string fretless. 8 Strings is about as far as I’ll go. These basses have a great feel to them and the sound is always remarkable where ever I play or whatever I plug them into. I also used an Aquilina Bertone Deluxe 7 String fretless bass on this album. This bass was built by French luthier Sebastien Aquilina. All my Conklin basses have Kent Armstrong pickups and Bartolini 3 band active EQ. I use custom ordered GHS Contact core super steels on all my basses. I’ve been using GHS for some 20 years now.
Martin: What qualities does the Aquilina have that the Conklins haven’t?
Edo: The Aquilina bass has a thinner body and is chambered. The neck is bolt on but composed of quarter-sawn maple that has a jointed tilt headstock. This gives a different tonal quality to the instrument allowing for Subtle nuances in the mid range. It’s quite nice to play.
Martin: Getting back to the album. The sleeve of Phoenix, is very informative and well laid out. I have to admit that although the black and white pic under the tray is interesting, I’m a little lost as to its significance.
Edo: All the photography on both my albums were taken by my wife Sharon Green. It was one of the things that I found attractive about her besides her good looks. When we first met she showed me her portfolio and I was smitten. Anyway the bird photo under the tray was something I was attracted to. It’s like looking at a field of wheat blowing in the wind. Something about that photo just made me stop. It made me feel good. It was either that photo or a photo of me. The birds won. I wanted the packaging on Phoenix to be like a visual story where you just looked about while listening. This takes me back to the days when we had vinyl albums. I spent hours looking at the liner notes and pictures while listening to the music. I wanted that! Granted the CD format is harder to read and restrictive space wise but I think Alicia Buelow did a fantastic job on the graphics. As to the significance of this particular photo – it tells a story and causes you to wonder what that moment was. Are the birds landing or are they taking off?
Martin: I was very interested in hearing the piece that you did with fellow bassist, Mark Egan. Can we expect to hear any other gems from you two guys in the future?
Edo: Mark has been a great influence on me particularly in the realm of melodic playing. His horn-like phrasing is beautiful. Not to mention his tone. I slowly became friends with Mark and at some point brought up recording and that’s how that came about. Blue Asia was perfect for us. There are only 2 bassists and a drummer on this track. I played my Conklin midi bass while Mark played his Pedulla 8 String fretless bass. Will we be working together soon? I can’t say but I can tell you that bassist Michael Manring, David Friesen and Yves Carbonne will be guests on my next CD (and maybe a few more surprises… we’ll see.)
Martin: From Here, I’ll allow you to take us through the album, starting with: Beneath An Evening Sky.
Edo: This was written by one of my favourite composer/guitarist Ralph Towner. I first heard the piece from the CD Oregon 45th Parallel. A friend of mine gave me a transcription and I learned the chords (well as close as I could) and melody. It is seemingly simplistic when you first listen to it but it is a study in subtle harmonic shifts and time change. It starts off in 6/4 but goes momentarily into 5/4 then back into 6/4. The wonderful thing is you as a listener don’t hear it nor feel it. The chords are voiced very open and wide. You can’t just play any old lick or string of chops in this piece. It forces you to really belly up to the bar and play some strong melodic content. Anything else would be a disaster. I think I did an exceptional job of not falling into those traps.
Martin: Bone Dreams.
Edo: This piece is based off a 7/4 pattern I created using harmonics. I wanted to write a composition inspired by a dream I had about skeletons. The dream at first frightened me but then it switched to a shamanistic experience. My interpretation of my dream is that the bones, our bones, held all the energy of our experiences despite the fact that the living tissue was gone. The bones held the mystical energy of our lives. So with all that I tried to create a dreamy experience through this piece. All the textures created were generated through my pedal board effects using long delays, reverb and chorusing. The Tabla was the finishing touch on this piece. It really gave this piece that mystical quality. The bass melody was inspired by a section in Pat Metheny’s CD, The Way Up, found in the beginning of Part 2 played by bass great Steve Rodby.
Martin: Song of The Electric Whales.
Edo: I created a wonderful textured loop and decided to record it. But then it sat for about a month. Then one night I watched the film The Whale Rider and it was during the footage of the whales that gave me the idea, the rest just happened. I knew how to create those whale-like sounds for years and always made them this little joke, but I didn’t know it would become a serious texture for a piece. The loop was slow and undulating giving the sense of being weightless or underwater. It was all there for me to put together.
Martin: Blue Asia.
Edo: It’s the first song I’ve ever written. (circa 1979-80). I was still in music school at the time and it all fell together rather quickly. I was taking an Afro-Cuban Percussion Ensemble class when the instructor asked for original compositions to play at the end of the semester for a concert. Despite not having any prior composing skills, I jumped at the chance. Blue Asia is built around the bass line. The original bass part is far different than the one recorded on Phoenix. The original bass groove was based off a 6/8 African percussion pattern called Naningo. Around 1989-90 I switched the bass line and feel to a Brazilian 6/8 very similar to what Pat Metheny popularized during that period. The melody was purposefully static to be propelled and float above the percolating bass & percussion textures. The title came about as a statement of the form of the piece and who wrote it. “Blue” for the Minor Blues and “Asia” for the person who composed it: “me.” Suffice it to say it does conjure up some wonderful visuals. I did record a version of Blue Asia in Chicago in 1989-90 with a band called “Viewpoint”. This band was comprised of guitar, vibraphones, steel drums, drums and bass. It’s really beautiful and quite different than the version on Phoenix. I love both versions. The composition is wonderful in that it can be played with any variety of instruments and still express the over all quality of the harmony. To have Mark Egan on this session has been a life long dream for me but more so his contribution to this recording is timeless.
Martin: Chance of Rain.
Edo: Ah another one of those things that just happened. In my exploration of sound, I created another loop and recorded it. Then I decided I wanted to play like Tony Levin, imitating the Stick. Then I got my friend Rob, to play the gorgeous pedal Steel. I love his approach to this instrument. I wanted the music to have this feel of something hanging about, like a storm on the horizon. I really love just allowing myself to hear what it is I want to create and go for it. Because there are many times I just struggle with ideas and having them go nowhere. I’m a firm believer that once you’re given the gift of the idea, you must run with it. As you know artistic creation has more equatorial troughs than great trade winds.
Edo: Oh now we’re digging deep. I wrote this during my years in Chicago between 1982 -1990, while learning my trade and finishing up my studies at the music college. I had 3 little unfinished pieces written down on paper and none of them were panning out. So one day while sitting at the piano I had all 3 scores sitting there: the first score was this bit in C Major with the descending melody with chords, the 2nd score had this bit with D minor and a melody, and the 3rd score in the key of F had this little nursery rhyme bit. I just laid them out from left to right and played them together ponderously together (I’m not that great a pianist). That’s how this piece came to life. Separately they were going nowhere but together they fit perfectly to each other. It was originally titled Morning Visitation but later I renamed it Phoenix. The piece was resurrected from my past and became the title track for this CD.
Martin: The Gift of Blue (Part 1).
Edo: The flutist, Blue, is an American Indian. We met at a gig a few years earlier and wanted to someday record together. The Gift of Blue (Part 1) was a recorded accident. What we trying to do was record Part 2 but during the session, someone outside the Studio had ignited some large fireworks, so if you listen closely at the end of this recording you’ll hear several booms in successive order. They sounded like drums from the heavens. We stopped the recording but I said, “Let’s keep it! I have an idea!” The chord arpeggio bits were something I was playing while Blue was recording this, so I recorded that later.
Martin: Amazing Grace.
Edo: I never intended to make another version of Amazing Grace. This was one of those moments where it happened. I created this wonderful looped event but I didn’t have a melody for it. So for weeks I created all kinds of swill but nothing worth keeping. Then one day I started the same loop and the melody for Amazing Grace came out from under my fingers. That’s when I said, “THAT’S IT!!” The lyrics came about in the same way. I had been listening to the recording of this arrangement and started humming this melody, then the words to the melody. So I wrote some alternate lyrics to Amazing Grace, taking out the “wretch” and giving it a more positive spin. You must admit I don’t think you’ve ever heard an arrangement like this.
Martin: The Gift of Blue (Part 2).
Edo: Part 2 is the full realization of Blue’s melody that we started to record with Part 1.
Edo: I wanted to record a piece you could sing along with and feel good about. I had been playing around with this idea for some time. There’s a bit of improvisation in the middle there where I just let things happen. The tapping that I do here is something I had been playing with for some time as well and finally found a home for it. It really does stick in your mind once you hear it. And if you walk away humming a bit of this then I’ve done my job as a composer.
Martin: Have you taken the album out on the road yet and if so, how many musicians are you using?
Edo: I haven’t officially taken it on the road but I have been playing bits of the album when I go out and play solo bass shows. This is really fun and challenging to do. This is a topic for another discussion because it addresses a variety of technical hurdles and other artistic challenges. Another interview perhaps?
Martin: Thanks very much for your time Edo.
Edo: Good luck with this beautiful album. Thank you!
– Martin Simpson, Bass Players EZine