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Jamaaladeen Tacuma - "the bass unlimited"

He´s become wellknown as sideman of Ornette Coleman in the end of the 70ths, and for having recorded some very remarkable fusion-LPs under his own name ("Jukebox", "Show Stopper" and more). Jamaaladeen Tacuma still today is considered as one of New Yorks best bassplayers. He is known for playing beyond the "limits of style" - it would be a difficult task to nail down and copy his technique - Tacuma is Tacuma.

Jamaaladeen Tacuma

Jamaaladeen Tacuma talked to Carina Prange before the concert of the first "Back Room" of this year at the House of Cultures.

Carina: Your name is an islamic one - you converted in 1977 - how much influence did and does your religion have on your playing, on your music?

Jamaaladeen: I like in it the idea of me trying to do something that is good for people to hear, something that is not negative. I think that is - in terms of the music - the influence that the islam has had on me. - And as a human being it´s had a better influence, because I am inspired to try to be the best human being that I can! - So, if I can be the best human being, then I can try to make the best music.

Carina: You play different electric basses - in which musical contexts do you use which instrument?

Jamaaladeen: Normally the bass that I play is a four-string bass called a Steinberger. Recently I have been checking out some different instruments, because I play with this Steinberger for maybe twenty years! It has been a long time - it has been the same one. - So, recently I have been checking out a twelve-string bass - it is pretty interesting! - It has three strings in each place where the four strings are on the bass guitar. And each of the three is the same note, tuned to a different octave - one lower, one low-high and one high. It is a really interesting sound.

Carina: What "technical stuff" do you use - effects and so on?

Jamaaladeen: For a long time, I never used many effects. Recently I´ve been using a pedal off and on for the past five, six years - I bring it sometimes to concerts - called Korg GL-5. It came about because I was interested in synthesized basses and sounds from the seventies and the early eighties. But at that time - it was in the early nineties, they only had synthesizers for guitars. You could make a guitar sound like bells. I wasn´t really interested in that - what I wanted were the really fat analog bass sounds of the seventies. And this pedal allows me to get just these sounds. In the studio I sometimes use effects, but really not much on my bass. I´m a "classic type" of bass guy.

Carina: Please tell something about how you play your instrument - the technique. What would you say is special?

Jamaaladeen: I believe that music - in it´s purest form - is sound and rhythm. But when you think of "styles" then you think of "classical rock", "jazz", these different styles. When you talk about music you really don´t think of a style, just of creative musical ideas. You know, there is a certain "trend" that goes with a style, for example a certain technique. Normally when I am playing in a more creative way, I am not thinking so much of "style", I am thinking more of the music - so I am not limited to play in a certain technique or something like that. However, if I am playing in a "groove style" or a latin band, then I am going to change myself for that particular style. But normally, when I am free to play the way that I want to play, it´s a very strange thing - it even sounds strange to me sometimes.

Sometimes I think that some bassplayers like it - and some don´t really get it. One bassplayer - I´m not telling the name - was doing for the Downbeat-Magazine a very special blindfold-test - you know, records, and to say who it is. They played one of my records, and this bassplayer said:
'This guy - he needs to start playing! He needs to practice!'
And they said: 'That´s Jamaaladeen Tacuma!'
And he exclaimed: 'Oh, my god! I didn´t hear that!'
He didn´t recognize my sound, my "style" at that particular time. But somehow I like that - because it means, that it is really something a little original about my style, a little bit. It is a little weird!

Carina: How much importance do rhythm and groove have for your playing?

Jamaaladeen: A lot, a lot! When I am playing in a groove-style, funky-style, it is very important that everything is working together - all the rhythm and stuff that is happening. Very important to me! Even though, if someone listens to the way I play, you would say - from an improvisational way - I´m all over the place. - However if I´m concentrating on playing more "blues style", I´m very serious about the groove.

Carina: You worked with many different musicians - with the rap group "The Roots" or Burhan Ocal - please, tell me a little bit more about these two projects.

Jamaaladeen: Working with these two projects is really an extension. See, the problem for me is two sides to my career. The one side is the very satisfying side - the side that me as an artist am allowed to do anything that I want to do, and to have the freedom to do anything - and I like that!
The other side of it - which sometimes could be good or could be bad - is that the labels that I work with don´t really know where to place me! So it becomes a problem for them - but it is not a problem for me. I am happy to do what I like. - So to do something with The Roots, to do some turkish music with Burhan - it is very natural for me to move in those different environments.
I don´t want to be that kind of musician that is completely locked into one particular idea. And this is how I was from the beginning of my career. So I can´t stop now.

Carina: What inspires your music? ... people, nature?

Jamaaladeen: Life, everything! - This gem that you wear is very inspirational - its beauty! - I look at it and it is very beautiful to me. So perhaps, if I am playing a solo, maybe this idea comes to my mind ... - And maybe I will write a small piece, a small "something" to remind me of that. When they made this gem, they had to make the lines "just right", so that it inspires a certain feeling! If they made the lines in another way, maybe it would result in another kind of feeling ...

So, when I am thinking of music, I am being inspired by everything that I see, by things that I hear - and I get so involved into the music and try to make it happen very powerful. But then - when I go home and have been playing a tour for two or three weeks, playing the bass every night - I don´t want to see the bass anymore!

I want to put the bass in the corner, I want to watch TV, go to the movies, I want to go to a restaurant, I want to go to play, do something, go to the zoo, walk in the park. I want to do other things - other than music! - I fancy furniture very much, I like to go to flea markets. I went to one today in Berlin - it was nice! - I like design and things like that ...

Carina: What about plans for this year - is there a new CD planned, are there some projects in progress?

Jamaaladeen: There´s always some things! What has happened is that for the past three years I have my own recording studio. It is such a beautiful thing, because I can go to the studio and I can create! And it does not matter how long I stay there - and I can work on ideas. So having that studio has allowed me to invite musicians that I know to come over, and I have just been recording - so what I´ve been doing is just "stock-piling" projects and productions.

It is also good to earn a living, to make money - I can take a few of these ideas and go to labels and say: 'O.k., lets make some business, let´s do some deal with it!' - So there´s always gonna be music coming from me these days now. - And that is my problem: I am always having so much ideas!

Carina: People say you 'played a very important role in redefining jazz-funk as a creative medium'. What is your opinion about this statement - how would you call your role in this context?

Jamaaladeen: Jazz-funk? I don´t know - there were certain people that were doing certain things before me! - I just think that maybe perhaps I have been blessed to be able to share in that developement, but there were guys that were playing that kind of style before me! - I feel good that I was able to take it a little bit further. That statement is o.k.!

Carina Prange

Fotos: Carina Prange

© jazzdimensions2001
erschienen: 30.4.2001
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