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Published: 2000/07/15
by Dean Budnick

"It’s All About Making Frequencies Together": Marc Friedman and The Slip

The Slip’s ever-evolving, absorbing melange of jazz, world, funk, pop and groove sounds has firmly entrenched the trio within the realm of those bands that command multiple-night attendance. Listeners who see the group on consecutive evenings typically discover far more than a different setlist, they also often find varied moods, textures and a seemingly-reconfigured sonic sensibility. The Slip is a band that fully embraces the ethos of improvisation. The group’s fervor for spontaneity and creativity has yielded a flourishing fan base and critical approbation.

While the band continues to win supporters on the strength of its live performance, many of the group’s fans forged meaningful, lasting connections through The Slip’s first studio release, From The Gecko. On June 20, more than two years after the appearance of that initial disc, the band finally offered its follow-up, Does. This work, the first from Butch Trucks’ Flying Frog Records label, presents a coherent, crystalline moment in the history of the group.

In the following conversation bass player Marc Friedman discusses the development of the band, the challenges of putting together a studio release and the nature of live performance.

DB- Let’s start with your recent New England tour. You played at Scullers a traditional sit-down jazz room and then a few days later at Lupo’s a classic smoke-filled, ornery club. I think it says quite a bit about the Slip that you are comfortable in both settings. I’m curious to hear your perspective on the disparity of the two venues.

MF- Playing at Scullers has been a personal goal. I’ve been seeing music there since high school, some of the best, most inspirational music. I’ve seen Maceo, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones. John Scofield played at the other place in town [Regattabar]. The most inspirational shows in my life have always been there. I guess the broad range of what we’ve been studying allows us to understand and love the various idioms that thrive in the different rooms. Our feel for the quieter rooms comes from the classical realm which we’ve all studied. At certain points that led to the jazz thing. Of course Jazz was very dance-oriented for a long time too when it was pop music in the twenties. Our music is similar in the sense that jazz can be for dancing or sitting down. It’s easy to put on a jazz album and either sit down or dance. Either comes pretty naturally to me. Of course you can take any form of music and listen to it that way. I enjoy listening to harder music in a more sedate manner. You listen to how the musicians complement each other or the singer or the lyrics.

DB- Okay, so that’s the jazz side. What about Lupo’s?

MF- In Lupo’s we’ve played very quietly before and used the bigger sound system to pick up our smaller notes, plus we’ll use the big system to create the silence that sounds really good in that setting. But we really don’t change it up too abruptly, too distinctly from one situation to another. The one exception might have been when we were opening up for String Cheese and we had under an hour. I remember really talking about those sets and trying to figure out what to play because we could only fit in three or four tunes. It’s the smaller stuff that we tend to talk about, like the time, not the environment.

DB- To what extent do you come on stage with set lists?

MF- Generally we don’t really talk about the sets too much except for what we’re going to play first so we know what to do when we get out there. Plus maybe we’ll discuss a couple of tunes we want to play during the night. At times it’s something we struggle with. I don’t think any of us like those moments when we’re trying to decide what tune to play. We just do it because much of the time it flows like butter and we love that feeling. So we never want to set ourselves up so we can’t be there in that moment. We basically never write a setlist because we want to have that feeling of knowing what tune to play subconsciously. We’ll also pick up the atmosphere in the room. We can tell if people want to dance and we can tell if they want to listen. Sometimes we’ll give them the opposite of what they want, just to conjure up a feeling in them that they aren’t expecting. I think that’s how we win over a number of unsuspecting listeners, we try to grab them. Ultimately of course we just play from the heart with whatever we’re doing, whether it’s a swing tune or a very mellow arrangement or an improv or some sound. It’s a wide spectrum.

DB- Let’s talk a little about your own development as a musician. When did you begin playing bass?

MF- I started classical piano when I was seven. That was more of a task. My family made me practice a half hour a day. It was kind of a chore. If you ask my mother she’ll say I wasn’t compliant at all times. But there was something I liked about it because I stuck with it. Then I really got bit by the rock and roll bug when I was about 11- this was back when all the Guns and Roses type glam rock was in it supremacy. I picked up a guitar but it scared me a bit because I wanted to be good. It was hard for me to take it home from the store and not be able to play anything on it because I could play somewhat on piano. A year later I picked a cheap bass- for four track reasons because my brother and I were really into four-tracking. I would also lay down drum kit because my dad plays drums a little bit. Right around the time I met Brad and Andrew I got the gig in the school jazz band on bass. That’s when I began my education on electric bass, which began with the jazz standards. Around that time my education also became solid in the blues idiom. I think that’s what really led to the marriage of musicianship and my love for music through B.B. King and Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. I was getting deep into the Chicago blues sound, and in part that’s due to my father who’s a pretty avid blues fan. The blues led into the jazz stuff, the fusion stuff of the seventies.

DB- Was there any particular bass player you emulated?

MF- I’d have to say none until Jaco. . For me Jaco is the pioneer. He’s the Charlie Parker of the electric bass. There were acoustic players who took it pretty far in the 50’s and 60’s with almost the same style as on the acoustic bass, which is incredible- people like Scott LaFaro who played with Bill Evans. But Jaco took the Fender fretless bass which is what I play and he invented the tone which is very cutting, and provided for very clear diction, which is just beautiful. It’s great. It’s new. It’s fun My bandleader introduced me to his music. This was when I started taking a good look at the bass, and I started really enjoyed playing foundation whether it was with a blues album or an Allman Brothers tape. I liked the way the bass fit underneath. I could always hear it, it didn’t get lost in the sea of distortion among all the different pitches. I liked that one pitch I think. Plus my hands are really big so bass just kind of fell right in. Within two years I was mainly a bass player, By the time I went to Berklee I was a bass player.

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