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FRANK GAMBALE: SOULMINING IN MELBOURNE

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Melbourne jazz fans are in for a real treat next week when Australia’s own Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso Frank Gambale plays a week long residency at Birds Basement including a very special New Year’s Eve performance. Gambale last performed in Australia in 2011 as part of the reformed legendary fusion group Return To Forever, alongside musician superstars Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Jean Luc Ponty. This year Frank has been touring with Corea’s other iconic group the Elektric band, who Gambale has played with for almost 30 years. For the Bird’s Basement shows, Frank will be joined by his partner, singer/songwriter Boca in his latest outfit Soulmine, playing songs from the band’s debut album, as well as unreleased tunes from their soon to be released second record.

Apart from playing with the world’s finest musicians and recording and performing his own material, Frank Gambale is also known as an innovator. Similar to the great Les Paul, who was as famous for his development of multitracking and delay as much as his delightful guitar licks, we can attribute two remarkable techniques to Frank too; sweep picking (or Gambale picking as we believe should be the case) and the Gambale tuning method. Prior to Frank’s Bird’s Basement appearances AM’s Greg Phillips had a chat to the guitar great about Soulmine, his gear and those ground-breaking innovations.

Hi Frank. Growing up in Canberra, was there one album that turned your world on its head when you heard it for the first time?
There were several events like that and they’re all chronological but I reckon the first Steely Dan record that I heard dropped me on my head. It was Countdown to Ecstasy, one of their earlier albums. It was still rock but had jazz elements and a sophistication about it. My first Chick Corea album too, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy in the 70s, that was a landmark album for me. I had never heard anyone play keyboards like that before. I think Billy Cobham’s Spectrum was another one too, with Jan Hammer, just incredible playing. I just wanted to be like them.

Well, you did end up being like them! You toured with the reformed Return to Forever. When you think back at that tour, what are the things which stand out in your memory?
It’s an iconic group. I felt like I skipped a generation to be in that band. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career that whole world tour, it was spectacular. I was a fan and a performer at the same time, playing with some of my favourite heroes and being a part of that band was a very special experience for me. Now we’re back out with the Elektric band too and having a reunion. We’ve been on the east and west coast of America and there’s 3 months of international touring for next year as well as more dates in the states. There’s a huge interest in that band once again. Every show we did was sold out and it was just fantastic.

frank_gambale_18_lrgYou’re in Melbourne for a residency at Bird’s Basement with your new band Soulmine (Dec 27-31). What was the concept behind Soulmine? When you put the band together, what were the goals?
I am taking a career shift I guess, is what it would be. A lot of major pop artists often reinvent themselves every album. I haven’t been that extreme but I am returning somewhat to my favourite kind of music.  I love instrumental music and I have played on many albums in that style, guitar centred music. Now I am returning to my vocal music roots. If I am honest with myself, a lot of my favourite music is vocal music. It’s pop music, it’s everyone from Sting and The Police to Paul McCartney and Beatles and Steely Dan and Earth, Wind & Fire. Anything that has a sophistication to it. There were a couple of Al Jarreau albums I went crazy for. I like sophisticated pop music, strong beats and I like sophisticated harmony but it can feature the guitar too, so I am really putting all of the element together in this band. Five of the six members in this band sing. This is my favourite music I have ever created and we’re deep into the recording of the second album. So half of the music we are presenting is from Soulmine II which hasn’t been released yet. We’ll be debuting some of that music here in Melbourne when we play.

Is this the first time that Boca is performing in Australia?
Yes I think so. It’s an exciting time for us. I think this is the best band I have ever assembled, so I think it’s going to be a really strong, beautiful show.

When was the last time you played a week long residency?
I can’t even remember. Usually it is one-nighters, moving through but this is good. I like the idea of a residency because you can get familiar with the surroundings and sound and make adjustments. We are taking advantage of it by videotaping and recording the performances each night.

gambalemultiamp-fg-soloWhat will your stage rig consist of for the Bird’s Basement shows?
I am using DV Mark amplifiers. I have a line with this company. I love the gear. I am using an amplifier and head it’s called a Multiamp FG, a special edition amp that DV Mark makes. It has an amp model which I helped to create. We’re using the speakers which I designed too, which are 2 x 12 cabs which are vertical with a slant. One of the speakers is open at the back and one is closed and they are really good sounding speakers with neodymium instead of magnets, so they’re much lighter. That’s pretty much my rig these days. They’re supplied by the distributor here, so I just bring a little SD card and load my programs onto it, I love it.

Tell me about the  combo version of that which DV Mark released, the FG121 signature amp. What elements did DV Mark have to get right for you to be happy with it and put your name on it?
My history with DV Mark was that we started out to create a head of some kind. For a about a year and a half we were developing a head called the Ampli-tude and it was pretty much done and ready to go but they decided to pull the plug on it because it was a digital face but the amp itself was analogue and they just believed that everyone is going digital now and … they saw an analogue amp as being something antiquated and I have to say I disagreed with them. I loved the amp that we created. It was called Ampli-tude and it sounded phenomenal. I have a few at home and I recorded with them and I think they sound amazing. That’s not to say that the Multiamp FG doesn’t sound great too. What they ended up doing was digitising and creating an amp model based on the tech we came up with for the Ampli-tude. So it’s an amp model in there and it is the only one that I use out of all the amp models inside the Multiamp FG. So for the combo, they said rather than throw out all this research and development and the hours that we put into the Ampli-tude, it ended up going into the combo, so it’s a little screamer. I had to choose two of the 3 channels. The distortion I was using was actually the crunch channel, it wasn’t the distortion channel. Obviously it needed the clean channel but I had to choose between the crunch or the distortion to put into the combo and I ended up going with the crunch for distortion. It’s plenty distorted if you ask me, if you crank the gain. It really is a terrific sounding combo, I am absolutely delighted with it because it is a simplified version of the Ampli-tude without the effects and everything else, just the core amp but the sound is really great.

You’ve been using D’Addario stainless steel strings for a long time? It’s a really personal thing isn’t it with guitar strings … it’s really what works for you!
Yeah. A lot of people don’t like the feel of stainless steel strings because they have a rough feel to them. For me, they retain their sound seemingly forever. I dunno, every time I put a nickel string on it sounds dead in half an hour. I just can’t get with nickel. I have tried over and over but the brightness just disappears instantly so I am not a fan of nickel. When I first tried stainless steel, I couldn’t believe how great they sounded so I have been an advocate for stainless steel for a long, long time now. I just love the way they sound and I don’t mind the coarseness of the feel. Some people like a very smooth feel but I am so used to them, I don’t think twice about it anymore. They’re so dependable those strings, tone wise and feel wise … so consistent.

You’ve been involved in so many recordings. How do you generally record your guitars sounds and has the method changed much over the years?
Oh yeah, it moves with the technology. Depending on the project, if it is a live recording, often I record with an amp and I mic my live rig. Just record it in the studio with a close mic and maybe a 58 and some sort of nice tube mic in the room and I’ll blend those. I may even take a direct sound too. My next record, the Soulmine II record … which doesn’t have a title yet so I am calling it Soulmine II, which may end up staying but I dunno … I have recorded my Multiamp FG direct. There are 3 modes inside the Multiamp FG. You can use it in mono, stereo and PA mode, which is a direct out and I am telling you, it sounds amazing. I have it in my rack in my studio and it just sounds brilliant direct. So I haven’t used a single speaker on this new record and that surprises me  a lot actually. It’s very warm and (has) fat tones. You’ll hear the lead sounds eventually when it comes out and you will be surprised that it was all done with the Multiamp FG direct, even the clean sounds. The clean sounds are generally easier direct but distortion, to get rid of all the high end zing that a lot of digital amps have … it is very difficult to get a warm natural sound and that is what I am getting and I am surprised also. As I always tell people, technology moves. You can see how fast technology is moving. Every year things kind of double. I always say today’s digital is not your dad’s digital or not even the digital of ten years ago, things are moving fast and the quality of the sampling and the digitising of audio is unbelievable. It’s getting harder to tell the difference between a tube amp or an amp with a speaker.

Do you have an instrumental soul mate, a bass player or keyboard player or drummer  who you just immediately click with on stage?
There are lots really. I did some concerts with this bass player who is emerging and he is from Santiago, Chile and his name is Christian Galvez. That guy is crazy, the most amazing bass player I have ever heard. I click really well with the drummer in my band at the moment, Mike Shapiro. I have known him for many years, been involved in lots of recording together. He is the drummer on the whole Soulmine II album. Beautiful player, very sensitive. He’s got a fantastic groove and he’s also an exciting player to watch too. He plays this music so perfectly that it feels like a magic carpet. Same with the bass player Alex, who has a rich pedigree. He’s worked with so many of the top pop and RnB artists from Whitney Houston … currently with Pati LaBelle and he’s such a great energy. So these two as a rhythm section is just fantastic. I’m havin’ a good time with this band I’m tellin’ ya!

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How’s the online guitar school going?
It’s going way beyond my expectations. We’re just over a year in and it’s one of those things I wish I’d about started ten years ago but better late than never. I am delighted the way it is going. I’m constantly adding content. We have two courses up there right now. There’s a 10 hour video blues course called Spicing Up The Blues and another one, roughly a 10 hour course on my sweep picking technique, which carries forward all of the developments I have made since my original book and video back in the 80s, so a lot of time has elapsed since I have done any major work in bringing that technique forward. The old editor for Guitar Player magazine Jude Gold has done a press release for my sweep picking course and something he says at the end of the article  was that maybe it was time to dedicate a name to this technique rather than just sweep picking. There’s a lot of controversy about who started it. It has been done to a very small degree before I came along certainly but nobody did the work that I did. Nobody popularised it, nobody turned it into a complete technique. Nobody wrote anything down about it or created a method, etc, etc. I have really taken it to the moon. Rather than say I originated the sweep picking technique as we know it today, he coined the phrase Gambale Picking and I am quite ok with that. That way, nobody can say, well it’s really sweep picking but … I am starting to just call it Gambale picking because this is my technique that I created to this level, to this form … just claiming it. A lot of people have learned sweep picking from my book, video and now the online sweep course and used it. Gambale picking is part of the evolution of guitar playing and an accepted part of the guitar lexicon.

Yes, let’s run with it!
Let’s run with it and I also have another invention … a lot of great guitar players have turned onto the idea … I call it Gambale tuning. I think it is an even more important invention than the Gambale picking technique actually. It’s just starting to get picked up in various places and various people are starting to use it. It’s an incredible tuning which allows you to play chord voicings that you can only dream of in standard tuning. It is very close to standard tuning in a way. Certain strings are in different octaves. I have always been envious of keyboard players who can play chords that we can’t play on guitar. Now I can play any and all chords that a keyboard player can play within reason. Certainly any four note voicing a keyboard player can play, I can do. Most of the 5 note voicings and many of the 6 note voicings and it is incredibly liberating. I figured it out in 2004 and I did a record called Raison D’Etre in 2005 where I first introduced it. There are a couple of songs in the new show on acoustic guitar which are tuned that way and my rhythm guitarist has one of his guitars set up that way too. It’s still guitar but these chords that are coming out are just magical and impossible any other way. It has the advantage over other open tunings in my mind because of the simple fact that it is essentially the same tuning as guitar when strings are in a different octave, you can still play an open D chord shape and it comes out like a major triad. All your standard shapes are the same and then you have a million new ones to explore. Essentially anyone can play it right away. You start going ooh, aah! You’re hearing the same chords that you normally play … the same notes but with different voicings. Anyway, it’s really deep and I think could easily be another standard tuning in the future.

Well thanks for your time Frank and we look forward to seeing you and Soulmine in action next week.
I am really excited about this band. People will be curious and I am sure they will have a fun time. I’m sure about that.

Frank Gambale’s Soulmine plays Bird’s Basement, Singers Lane, Melbourne. December 27-31. To book tickets visit www.birdsbasement.com

Frank Gambale website

DV Mark gear is distributed in Australia by www.cmcmusic.com.au

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