The height of the low: The greatest Israeli bass tracks of all times
Local music never internalized the groove of Motown, but the attempt to come up with an anthology of Israeli bass reveals some flashes of creativity.
Ella Fitzgerald's place as a singer is hard to question, and this past Sunday it was impossible not to nod in agreement when her amazing voice was heard on the radio. It happened in the afternoon, when Yoav Yefet - the host of a terrific program on 88FM - played Fitzgerald's winning rendition of George and Ira Gershwin's "Slap that Bass" - a love song to the bass, its sound, groove and the feeling it creates.
I came to the low registers the same way many others did: via the Beatles and Paul McCartney's bass. I was still in the pre-analytical stage of listening to music. I didn't check very carefully what each musician was doing and I absorbed the songs as one package. But I did notice that the bass gave me especially intense pleasure.
Another important stop en route to the depths of the bass was an encounter with James Jamerson's fingers. Jamerson was the bassist with the Funk Brothers, as the core of session musicians who performed on the majority of Motown's recordings called themselves. He played on thousands of songs recorded by the successful Motown label and, in 1971, played on Marvin Gaye's album "What's Going On." When I heard "What's Going On" for the first time I couldn't believe it was possible to play bass so beautifully. I remember that the album's second song, "What's Happening Brother," left me gaping. The bass line was so soft yet so funky, so complex yet so flowing.
Jamerson is one of the 75 bass players whose contribution to 20th-century music is documented in the new edition of The Wire magazine (McCartney, incidentally, is not on the list ). It is not a repulsive list of "the greatest bass players of all time" as Rolling Stone magazine and others like to present, but a selection of the 75 songs The Wire's writers define as "monumental bass experiences."
Reading The Wire's bass issue prompted some thoughts about the place of bass in Israeli music. The first association: "Kad katan" ("Little Jug"). Why "Kad katan"? Because the beat of this Hanukkah song is typical of countless Israeli songs. No one here cares about the bass, the bass player says to himself, and in any case, they barely pay me, so why exert myself? We'll play "Kad katan" and wrap things up.
Israeli music, which never internalized the groove of Motown, is not a major bass superpower. Nevertheless, there have been a few things done here that go beyond the "Kad katan" cliche. The attempt to come up with a small anthology of Israeli bass reveals impressive flashes of creativity. The songs listed here are not necessarily those of the leading Israeli bass players (Yossi Fine, Michael Shaviv, Eli Magen, Avner Yifat, Alon Nadel, Eitan Gidron, Django, Yaya Cohen Harounoff and Yehu Yaron are only a few of the fine bassists not included). The songs selected are ones that provide a "bass experience" - songs in which the bass is the defining element, giving them their unique color and identity. It is of course a very partial list.
• Hachalonot Hagvohim (The High Windows): "Habuba Zahava" ("The Doll Zahava"). Hachalonot Hagvohim's only album was a turning point in the history of Israeli pop. The legendary bass riff that opens "Habuba Zahava," played by Shmulik Aroch, gives the song its dark depth and aligns it with the psychedelic rock being produced elsewhere at the time.
• The Churchills: "When You're Gone." Of all the Israeli bass players who emerged in the late 1960s it seems that Miki Gavrielov was the best student of the McCartney school.
• Miri Aloni: "Habalada al Hedva veShmulik" ("The Ballad of Hedva and Shmulik"). The first thing you hear is Alon Oleartchik's bass. Three short but unforgettable notes.
• Haneshamot Hatehorot (The Pure Souls): "Berehov haneshamot hatehorot" ("On Pure Souls Street"). The fine bass sound here, with a lovely melodic touch and crisp sound, is thanks to Udi Kadishson, who was the bassist with the troupe of the Israel Defense Forces Combat Engineering Corps.
• Lehaka Retorit (Rhetorical Band): "Seder yom" ("Daily Schedule"). The bass had a very dominant role in the post-funk and new wave music of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The best example is arguably "Seder Yom" by Yossi Elefant's band Lehaka Retorit. Arik Zucker plays, but presumably Elefant had an important role in engineering the process and the sound.
• Ehud Banai and the Refugees: "Avoda shchora" ( "Black Work"). Once again, it is Yossi Elefant who did an outstanding job producing Banai's first album, including working with bassist Gil Smetana on every sound produced by the bass.
• Rami Fortis: "Shkiata shel hazriha" ("The Sunset of the Sunrise"). Gil Smetana a second time. The bass has a relatively modest presence (and a very pleasant one) through most of the song, but the first 15 seconds are a compact and wonderful symphony of deep bass that gives the song its unique and contemplative tone.
• Mashina: "Anahnu shnayim" ("We Are Two"). Michael Benson's bass was perhaps the most dominant element of Mashina's music. "Atid matok" ("Sweet Future"), with its unforgettable bass intro, is the obvious choice, but on "Anahnu shnayim" Benson's performance is based on the "Kad katan" aesthetic (and shows that it's possible to transform it dramatically).
• Carmela Gross Wagner: "Nashim kotvot shira" ("Women Writing Poetry"). Your breath is taken away when Eran Zur sings this song, alone with his gray bass during concerts by the band Tattoo in the late 1980s. Nearly 25 years later, this song still creates goose bumps.
• Eifo Hayeled (Where's the Kid ): "Ehad elohim" ("God is One"). One of the most Neanderthal bass segments in the history of Israeli music, but it can't be omitted from this list. It was the note that heralded the rock music of the early 1990s.
• Assaf Amdursky: "Ahava hadasha" ("New Love"). Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum!
• Bikini: "Sheharhoret" ("Black Woman"). Israeli pop discovered Jamaican dub by elegantly fusing the music of several decades. The bass notes that open "Sheharhoret" in the version by the Bikini duo, Haim Laroz and Karni Postal, prove that it was worth the wait.
• Zvuloon Dub System: "Freedom Time." This is arguably the best Israeli reggae album of recent years - partly because of Tal Markus' deep and booming bass.
• Bonus track - Avner Kenner: "Bridge." This unknown and great song, recorded by Kenner in the 1970s, is a complex musical patchwork that verges on the impossible.