Tabla, acoustic and electric guitars, alto and tenor saxes, palmas, synth, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone and marimba, bongos, cajón, kora, djembe, telephone (and more) ... the list of instruments and musicians appearing on bassist Jon Gagan’s latest release, Transit 2, takes up most of a CD panel. For Gagan, a Santa Fean whose background is heavy in jazz and funk, the multicultural instrumental palette reflects the world of influences informing his compositions, and a determination to break out of the confines of genre.
Thursday night, Gagan’s four-piece group, Transit, featuring Bert Dalton (Fender Rhodes and piano), Ryan Anthony (drums), and Robby Rothschild (percussion), will celebrate the new release with a performance at the Outpost.
As the arranger, musical director and bassist for Luna Negra, the backing group for Grammy-nominated Ottmar Liebert, Gagan is certainly no stranger to musical miscegenation. His groove-laden compositions on Transit 2, the follow-up to Transit, morph seamlessly from one modality to another. From ambient techno soundscapes to funky blues, from Brazilian samba to rock ’n’ roll, from nouveau flamenco to jazz, Gagan inducts a wide range of timbres and rhythms to create a highly textured “One World” sound that’s easy to float along with, but full of surprises. He can go from dreamy to gritty and back again in a flash, so don’t get too comfortable.
“I just try to take different things that appeal to me and make them work together,” says Gagan.
“I’ve always thought there’s not enough kinds of instrumental music, I guess,” he says. “There’s definitely idiomatic parameters that have to be dealt with if you’re going to call it jazz. From where I sit, I feel like that’s been done, and done incredibly well. Arguably, the best stuff was done in the ’50s and early ’60s. So that’s, in a certain way, music of another time ... I love the music, and I play it all the time, and I listen to it all the time. But as far as putting another record out into the world, I didn’t see a need for that, for me.”
“At the same time, I certainly don’t want to do smooth jazz,” he adds.
Oh, bless you, my son.
“I want to ignore the genre thing,” Gagan says. “In the process, I’d hoped to appeal to a different sort of person, who’s not necessarily just interested in, let’s say, instrumental prowess or jazz skill—but just likes the sound of music.”
The sound of Gagan’s bass, often played as a lead instrument, is a world unto itself, liquid and lyrical. Swells, peals, glissandi, blossoming aches of sound—Gagan brings a heightened and articulate emotionality to the bass, creating an almost synesthetic experience.
He’s also canny about how he brings out the melody on the instrument. “When the bass is used melodically, I like to use something an octave up to bring the melody out more, rather than having to play a six-string bass with a high string, or EQ the bass to where it sounds like a guitar,” he says. “I like it to sound like a bass.”
At the Outpost, Gagan’s bass will certainly be front and center in the small group, which will be performing music that was originally recorded with a cast of thousands. With the quartet, he says, the emphasis will be a little heavier on the funk and jazz elements.
“It won’t be as textural,” he says, but “I kind of like having a lean, mean gigging machine.”