Reviewer: Warren Murchie
Review Date: September 2003
The secret is out! This man can play!
Once in a long while something will cross our desks here that really captures the imagination as to what could be
thought of as the perfect balance of a 'bass album' and a 'songwriter's album'. Al Garcia strikes pretty close to
that ideal with his newest release, entitled Make it So. Now, this guy has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in the
bass world. Killer chops and with a flawless sense of understatement, he draws from a large bank of eclectic influences,
running the gamut from Alan Holdsworth to J. S. Bach. He also pursues live gigging opportunities using his training and
experience in Jazz, Rock, Afro-Cuban, Fusion, Blues, Country and Reggae. His album rests comfortably right in the middle
of the zone all bassist soloists aspire to and seldom achieve: Filled with loads of technique and even moreso,
strong song writing ability. Even the general public (those that think that bass guitar is nothing more than a huge guitar)
would find merit in this album. Featuring loads of strong songs with a melodic lead instrument that just happens to
be that huge guitar known as bass!
Bass Inside: I know you started out on guitar itself, (and for that, as a bass magazine we might be able to forgive you!)
and you, in fact, play the guitar role on this album as well. But when you tackled bass for this project, was the
knowledge and technique you took from guitar playing part of the reason you approached bass in such a balanced and
Al Garcia: Actually, I started playing bass years before I seriously took up the guitar. My first instrument was the flute,
but that didn't last very long. Shortly after, a friend of mine got the bright idea to put a band together.
Since he had already started to learn guitar, I became the bass player by default, a fate familiar to many bassists,
I suppose. My very first 'bass' was a plastic toy guitar. I removed the high E and B strings to simulate the feel of a real bass.
That and a Mel Bay method book got me started. I developed an unusually strong melodic sensibility for a bass player right from the start, which is why I developed an interest in the guitar. I dabbled but didn't take it seriously until years later when I saw Allan Holdsworth play with I.O.U. I was so blown away by his guitar playing that I couldn't sleep that night. I kept thinking, "It's impossible, it's impossible..."
I believe that my bass playing informs my guitar playing and vice versa. Being a bass player makes me more aware of rhythm
and feel when I play guitar. Being a guitar player makes me more aware of melody, harmony, and the importance of using a
wide range of techniques when I play bass. Each instrument allows me to express myself in different, yet complementary ways.
Bass Inside: Was your goal to create a bass focused album or just an album that expressed your musicality at this time?
Al Garcia: Both. I wanted to create an album that featured the bass guitar in an interesting compositional setting.
What I didn't want to do is record a 'show off' album that would appeal only to bass players. Also, I wanted the CD to
reflect my love of all types of music.
Bass Inside: You mention Jack Bruce and Felix Papalardi as your first bass heroes, the case for a lot of the 45+ crowd.
What about their playing caught your attention at that time, and who catches your attention now?
Al Garcia: Both Jack Bruce and Felix Papalardi were extraordinary in that they refused to be limited by the traditional role
of the bass. In Cream, Jack Bruce's playing was a musical force equal to the guitar and drums. Cream was also one of
the first rock bands to experiment with collective improvisation. Felix Papalardi played a similar role in Mountain.
Both players had a huge, distorted tone that filled auditoriums and was guitar-like in some ways, yet faithful to the
bass tradition in others. My favorite bass player these days is Dominique Di Piazza who played on John Mc Laughlin's
album Que Alegria. He is an all-around monster who can solo like a horn player, play chords like a classical guitarist, and
groove like Jaco!
Bass Inside: To get a typical gearhead question out of the way as soon as possible, what kind of basses do you favor and why?
Are these the basses you use in Make It So? Is the Rob Allen bass in the photo one of these? And why did you choose
Al Garcia: The bass in the photo is a Rob Allen MB-2 fretless bass. I also play a Ken Smith BSR 5MW 5-string,
an Ibanez SR608 6-string, an MTD Kinston 5-string fretless, and a G&L L2500 5-string. I used all of these instruments on
Make It So, except for the G&L which I recently bought. Each bass has its own unique sound and feel. I like the depth and
clarity of the Ken Smith and G&L basses. The Rob Allen has a beautiful, organic upright-like tone.
Bass Inside: Can you tell us a bit about the Rob Allen bass itself, its strength and its weaknesses?
Al Garcia: The Rob Allen is a semi-acoustic fretless with a Fishman piezo pickup. It comes with black nylon strings.
This combination of features may seem strange, but out of it comes a lush fretless 'mwah' that, especially in the lower registers,
sounds very much like an upright. I play with an acoustic world music chamber ensemble called Quarteto Nuevo.
Fretted basses sounded out of place with Quarteto. The Rob Allen fit right in.
Bass Inside: Tell us a bit about your amp configuration, why you chose it and using what criterion.
Al Garcia: As anyone who plays bass can tell you, the bass guitar is one of the hardest instruments to amplify.
You need a lot of power for full, round low end. You also need a good dose of mids and highs to make the notes intelligible.
Finally, you need a system that helps your unique qualities as a player come through. I am constantly experimenting
with setups. My current live rig includes an Aguilar DB 659 preamp, an SWR Stereo 800 power amp, and an
SWR Goliath III speaker cabinet. I also just got a Roland GT-6B Bass Effects Processor which has every effect
known to man. I haven't even touched the surface of what this thing can do yet.
Bass Inside: In your search for 'that certain sound' what kind of things have you discovered that help you achieve that goal?
Are you close to your goal at this point in that search?
Al Garcia: The most important things I have discovered have nothing to do with equipment or technique. One of these is
that you need to listen to as much music as possible. Some people claim they can remain creatively pure only by avoiding
listening to other players. I believe this creates an unhealthy feedback loop. If you listen only to yourself, then nothing
can enter that loop and your playing will stagnate. I think that you should listen to as much as you can and to as wide
a variety of music as you have time for. Your mind will take all of this information and out of it produce something
that is uniquely yours.
The other thing I have learned is almost a secret in the musical community: The greatest obstacle to creative expression is
not lack of technique, talent, or good equipment, but the inability to remain relaxed and focused while performing.
My eyes were opened to this by a book called Effortless Mastery by pianist Kenny Werner. Getting to the point
of 'effortless mastery' is in itself a lifelong endeavor every bit as important as learning your scales and modes.
As Kenny Werner says, if you can't play it while relaxed, it doesn't count.
Bass Inside: If you could liken 'that sound' to being achieved by anyone else out there right now, who would it be?
Al Garcia: Though there are many fine players past and present who have hinted at greatness, I believe there hasn't
been anyone the caliber of, say, Charlie Parker or John Coltrane on the bass guitar. You have to remember that the
electric bass is only 50 years old. Jaco was perhaps the greatest so far.
Bass Inside: When you first sat down to create Make It So, what did you hope to achieve, and was the end result close to that?
Al Garcia: My original goal was quite modest. I just wanted something I could sell at concerts. However, as the
project progressed I became increasingly encouraged by the results. This made me work harder. I'm very pleased
with the CD.
Bass Inside: In what ways did you surpass your goal and in which ways did you not quite reach the 'brass ring' this time?
Al Garcia: I think that the CD is a very good representation of my playing and composing at this point in time.
Creating it was a bittersweet process however. Being my first attempt at recording and producing a CD, there
were many technical hurdles to overcome. The mix-down was especially grueling, given my modest recording
equipment at the time, but I learned a great deal.
Bass Inside: Of the other bass soloists albums, whom do you admire? Was there a particular bassist in mind inspirationally
when you decided that it was time to record Make It So?
Al Garcia: Though I like Matt Garrison's recent CD, and of course Jaco's debut album, I really didn't have a
particular bass CD in mind when I started on Make It So. I was instead inspired by a guitar CD called
Escape from Hollywood recorded by the Hellecasters. I was impressed by how the guitarists managed to balance
burning performances with good material. I was also impressed with the CD's eclectic mix of styles.
Bass Inside: What did you learn from this venture that you can take with you into the next album?
Al Garcia: I was quite unprepared for the sheer amount of work that it takes to create a CD on your own.
I recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, and designed the cover art myself. One of the dangers of producing a
CD yourself is that there are no external time restraints. You are constantly tempted to record another overdub,
or try this or that effect, or redo that mix-down. In order to get the project done in a reasonable amount of time,
I had to enforce arbitrary deadlines on myself. It was a great learning experience.
Bass Inside: When do you hope to start working on that album?
Al Garcia: I've already started preliminary work on two new projects. One will be a follow-up to Make It So.
This CD will feature more of my guitar playing as well as my bass playing. The other CD is a project with vocals that melds
influences from progressive rock and jazz/rock fusion.
Bass Inside: Do you have a present line up musician-wise that you use to promote the CD and if so, is it the same group
of people as are on the CD?
Al Garcia: Being in the Los Angeles area, I am extremely fortunate to know many fine world-class musicians.
I plan to have several of them perform on my upcoming CDs.
Bass Inside: Your playing technique covers a lot of ground, from finger style to Legato phrasing, fingerpicked arpeggios,
chordal work, harmonics, slap, and more. Are you self-taught or did you seek out teachers of these various styles?
Al Garcia: I learned everything from records and books. Some of my influences are Jack Bruce, Allan Holdsworth,
J.S. Bach, Jeff Berlin, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Bela Bartok, Jaco Pastorious,
Beethoven, Ravel and many others.
Bass Inside: Do you teach presently as well, and have you considered making instructional videos or other teaching methods?
Al Garcia: I don't currently teach. But creating an instructional video or book is something I would like to do in the future.
Well, we are poorer for not having these learning CD's or videos yet! Al Garcia is an unusual package in that he does
not look like a rock star at all. In fact, he has the look of an accountant or an office manager. However, it is a simple fact
that his album Make it So is, due to its many strengths, one of the best CD's we have yet encountered in this magazine's
life to date.