OK, so this evening I spent a bit of time listening to some of Tony Levin's more recent work with The Stick Men, as posted on YouTube. In particular, I discovered some video footage of a gig that Tony played with TSM + The Adrian Belew Power Trio at The Iridium jazz club here in New York, on 28 September, 2011 - just about a year and a half ago. I recall it vividly, because I had the privilege of attending that show.
One of the many King Crimson tunes they all played together that evening was "One Time", from the Vrooom
albums, if I recall correctly. As much as I love the orchestrated bombast and mayhem of such KC tracks as "Neurotica" and "Indiscipline", I think I may enjoy their occasional ballads even better. "One Time" is one of those.
For your reference, here's a YouTube link to the original album recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhJKCW2_w3k
I think it would have to be beyond dispute that Tony Levin is one of the most thoroughly musical
bassists ever. "One Time" illustrates some of the reasons for this, very nicely.
First & foremost, please notice Tony's very tastefully restrained note choices - and particularly the sense of space he introduces to the song...by what he chooses to not
play. It is perhaps this compositional
approach to the instrument that I admire most about Tony. (Plus his tone is great - very deep & authoritative, without being overbearing.)
Moreover, please note the subtle way he keeps this very simple tune rhythmically interesting by alternating between playing a phrase straight, then playing it a bit more syncopated - especially during the verses. Harmonically, I love the way he sort of leads the chord progression with the lovely little half-steps he plays.
During the chorus sections, TL has an opportunity to stretch out with a bit of melodic playing. Notice especially the way he plays a little melodic counterpoint with the lead vocal - while still keeping the bass part suitably restrained and simple. The triplet figure he plays during each chorus is just wonderful - and vintage Tony.
It's one thing to have a favorite player - or even a bunch of favorite players. It's something else again to listen to that player - closely
, and to analyze what it is about that player's style or approach that makes him such an outstanding player. IMO, only when we spend the time & energy to do that, to really break it down in order to learn from him, do we put ourselves in a position to gain the maximum positive influence from that player(s) and his work.
I personally admire Tony Levin for the exquisite musicality
of his work - above all else. Having developed a keen musical instinct for what works in the context of a given piece - then following through accordingly, with such superb taste and sensitivity - is one of those qualities that makes Tony Levin an excellent musician...and one of the best bassists ever