Ruth Goller on her best bass albums
Ruth Goller’s career is based on an intoxicating mix of jazz talent and punk attitude. Originally from the Italian Alps, but based in London, she plays both electric bass and double bass. Over the years, she has been featured on a long and impressive list of intriguing projects, from Acoustic Ladyland and her successor Melt Yourself Down to The Golden Age of Steam, Metamorphic and World Sanguine Report.
As she is always ready to push the limits in any direction, Goller’s new album Skylla is a mix of improvisation, harmonic explorations and multi-layered vocals. Innovative and sonically fascinating, the album consolidates its reputation as a rising star in the firmament of modern jazz.
Goller started playing the violin as a child, before being drawn to the low end. Her range of bass techniques has gone world class and she has been described as providing ‘thundering hooks’, perhaps one of the reasons she has also worked with award-winning jazz musicians Kit Downes, Marc Ribot and Shabaka Hutchings. like a certain Paul McCartney.
We met Goller on a recent Zoom call, when she told us about five of the albums that were important to her career.
Must-see album: Ruth Goller – Syklla (2021)
“Someone asked me to write a song for a monthly mixtape, where did this album come from. I had just gotten off a flight and was really, really tired, but now I had a deadline for the next day because I had to write this song.
“I took out my bass, which was out of tune because it was in the flight case, and I just started playing harmonics. Accidentally, due to the unusual tuning, I really liked the harmonic series that I got from it. I put on a mic quickly, but I wasn’t even plugged in so I recorded very close to the strings, improvising.
“I cut out a song that I liked and started layering it with my own voice with some stream of consciousness lyrics. I was just saying sentences, half-mumbling, not thinking at all. ‘took only a few hours – but I got so many people who said they loved it. I continued to write over the next 12 months and by the end I realized I had the value of a music album.
“The Cologne Jazz Festival then asked me to do a concert, but I didn’t even have a band. I didn’t conceptualize how I was going to do it live with all these vocal layers – so I asked my singer friends, and we arranged it for three voices. The concert got a very good response. It was just consequences and coincidences, and that’s why it’s so true for myself: I haven’t given it too much thought. “
Worthy contestant: Melt Yourself Down – Last Evenings on Earth (2016)
“I first performed with saxophonist Pete Wareham at Acoustic Ladyland, just after moving to UK and getting involved in different bands. Many of these people have been very important to my development as a musician and bassist. Pete and I have a deep and lasting musical friendship, and he influenced me a lot as a musician while finding my identity.
“I grew up playing punk music, then when I moved to the UK I studied jazz at Middlesex University. I thought then that I should play exclusively jazz standards and double bass, but when I met Pete, I realized that I didn’t have to make a choice. He’s a brilliant jazz musician, but he’s also a punk musician.
“What he writes is not at all direct jazz. It’s a full festival band, live music and I’ve always found them very inspiring because they take the best pieces from punk and jazz. Why not? There’s something really raw about Pete’s sound: it’s the most amazing saxophone sound.
“I play electric bass on this one. I’ve fallen in love with the Fender Mustang the last few years, and now I have two, so I’m really happy: one with humbuckers and one with single coil pickups, which is more punk and dirty. I like to play with simple equipment.
Cool Grooves: Vula Viel – Don’t Be Afraid (2019)
“It’s a really interesting project. Bex Burch is the conductor and she plays an instrument that she built for herself. It’s an augmented gyil, plus a huge sort of marimba vibraphone, and then it’s me on electric bass and Jim Hart on drums.
“Bex went to Ghana to study Ghanaian funeral music, which is a very specific style in itself. Rhythmically, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever encountered: it’s all in cycles and patterns of bells and really really long shapes. Because everything is in a pentatonic scale, you don’t get a lot of harmonic change. At the same time, Jim does all kinds of amazing stuff, with each member playing a different time signature or motif, while improvising inside.
“I love playing with this group, even though it’s very difficult, and I learned so much. Sometimes I feel like, “Where did the pulse go?” Because it’s all in three or four, and you can feel it two different ways. I am really very happy with this record and my sound.
“Internalizing these forms is like playing a jazz standard; when you learn one, you just think of the chords that are in each measure. Then it merges and you stop thinking about where you are. You have the freedom to improvise in the piece of music.
Wild Card: Chris Montague – Hotter Than Blood (2020)
“It’s another trio, this time led by my good friend Chris Montague, with Kit Downes on the piano. I love music, and it’s unusual in that we don’t have a drummer; just electric bass, electric guitar and acoustic piano.
“Kit prepares the piano so that he can get a lot of percussion sounds. It’s a bit like approaching a traditional jazz quartet but with very different and very new sounds. Chris’s compositions are amazing. I don’t know anyone else who can write music like this, in that kind of unusual setting. It really is special.
“Like all bands I play with, something is written down before I play, but there is always some freedom for me to explore and improvise. This is very interesting – when you play with a drummer you automatically want to play louder, which means when you play without it is more about keeping energy without being too loud.
“I’ve explored effects pedals a lot with this band, using a little bit of distortion at a really low level, and also a little bit of reverb – the combination gives the bass a kind of weird vibe. The drums usually fill the bass, but when it’s gone, like in this band, everything gets very exposed. I find that using a reverb helps a lot in keeping the bass down.
Hard to read: Group X – Album X
“Sometimes, as a professional bass player, you will be called upon to a short-term recording session, in the hope that you will be able to sight read sheet music or tables created to convey harmonic and rhythmic information of base, ”Goller explains. . “If a table is correct, I can play a piece of music right away without having to transcribe it in the session and determine what the chord movement is.
“It’s fine for me to do that, but it takes time, and of course in a studio time is very expensive. So having a good graphic means I know the basic information of a song, which means I can focus on my creativity with what I need to play.
However, things can be very tricky if you go to a session only to find that no graphics of any kind have been done, as happened once in Goller: “I was recording at the same time as I was recording. heard the melody for the first time. – basically, I was guessing what was to come!
It would be a challenge for all of us; luckily, the project went well. “It was actually good because they were happy to change things. It keeps the music organic and I feel like you can find things that don’t normally happen. It can be stressful at the time, but if you work with good musicians, you will always be fine in the end. Amen to that.