Favorite Track: Ekuté Least Favorite Track: Notes With Attachments
As far as bassists go, Pino Palladino is considered one of the greatest of all time. Inspired by the likes of Jaco Pastorious, Anthony Jackson, and Stanley Clarke, his bass technique has stretched far beyond the generic, low-pitched sound, experimenting with counter-melodies, chords, and leading melodic lines on the traditionally background-level instrument. Palladino has worked with a multitude of impressive musicians on some of the most critically-acclaimed albums to date, such as Continuum by John Mayer, 21 by Adele, Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails, ÷ by Ed Sheeran, Ice On Fire by Elton John, Reptile by Eric Clapton, and Voodoo by D’Angelo. As omnipresent in the music scene as he is, there was a strong desire amongst fans for a solo record in the future. Instead of simply throwing something together, Palladino took the mature route and waited for the right collaborator to help him convert his ideas and grooves into a cohesive project. Enter Blake Mills, who is one of the most celebrated producers and multi-instrumentalists in music today, most notably recording and producing with Alabama Shakes, Phoebe Bridgers, John Legend, Moses Sumney, and Fiona Apple. On top of collaboration, his solo projects are nothing to overlook, especially 2014’s Heigh Ho, where Mills showcases his various roles in songwriting, guitar playing, producing, and listening with a personal and well-thought out collection of songs. Taking Palladino’s groove-writing prowess and pairing it with Mills’s incredible producing/layering was sure to create an interesting project, and sure enough, Notes With Attachments was conceived around the two artists’ love for musical experimentation and expression.
This thirty-one minute long record presents and demonstrates the collaborative efforts by Pino Palladino and Blake Mills. A majority of the tracks begin with Palladino laying down a groove of his usual melodic and rhythmic language. “Soundwalk” and “Off The Cuff” boast instantly grabbing bass grooves that are heavily inspired by Palladino’s work with the Soulquarians; a rotating collective of black soul/hip-hop artists whose experimentation helped to pioneer the neo-soul movement. As soon as we hear the bass come in on these tracks, we get reminiscence of Mama’s Gun by Erykah Badu, Like Water for Chocolate by Common, Things Fall Apart by The Roots, and Voodoo by D’Angelo. However, it’s what is added to the songs that transcends them into a whole new experimental and psychedelic take on soul and jazz. “Soundwalk” builds with some nasty, layered electronic tenor saxophone playing by Jacques Schwarz-Bart, who worked alongside Palladino during D’Angelo’s Voodoo tour. Organist Larry Goldings and Blake Mills, who plays guitar and an array of auxiliary percussion, drop in and out of the mix, almost as if the musicians were exchanging glances back and forth, unsure whether to stop playing or to keep jamming. However, that dropping in-and-out gives the track this strange, yet enticing J Dilla-esque instrumental beat, with Schwarz-Bart and Palladino pulling the groove along. “Off The Cuff” begins with drummer Chris Dave laying down this polyrhythmic, brush snare groove for Mills and Palladino to play bass on, with one sticking to a one-note bass line and the other embodying that Jaco Pastorious chordal-bass playing. From there, saxophonist Sam Gendel whips out this subdued Poly Sax playing, and while it’s a little lackluster and doesn’t evolve into anything grandiose, it’s a nice addition to the already intoxicating groove.
The track “Ekuté” is arguably the best track on Notes With Attachments. It emanates a Fela Kuti vibe, with repeating chord changes, saxophone lines, syncopated bass and guitar riffs, and shared melodic material with every instrument in the song, giving every instrument a “lead” title. Building off of Pino Palladino and Blake Mills’s syncopated rhythm, the song takes us into this Cuban/West-African instrumental beat. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland adds a well-balanced section of tenor saxophone and bass clarinet lines, with the occasional altissimo flurry of notes or short solo break, and is matched by some distorted, rubberized guitar fills, as if Strickland and Mills are having a conversation. “Ekuté,” despite restricting itself to a single chord, utilizes its hypnotic groove and stellar instrumentalism to branch out in a multitude of directions and leave the listener with plenty to consider. “Djurkel” is another highlight, and just like the instrument, the song is a folksy-African one note reflection. Regardless of the Dj Urkel’s delicate sound, this is the most climatic point on the album, with a colossal riff played by bass, saxophone, strings, and drums midway through. The whole song transitions through certain grooves and dynamics, beginning with a folksy mediation by, steel guitars and light bass drum work, followed by a cued soprano saxophone and guitar melody, ramping up to some momentous, collective hits, and then transitioning to some classic Chris Dave drum beats for Palladino, Mills, and Sam Gendel to blow over. “Chris Dave” is exactly what the title indicates; a concentration on Chris Dave’s transcendent drumming. The acoustic bass, saxophone, picked guitar, and synths are all parts of this harmonic flavoring in the piece, and Chris Dave is able to experiment with different sorts of percussive styles like cross-sticking, rim playing, pitch bending on the toms, and broken up beats over it.
There are tracks on Notes With Attachments that could have been developed a little more to match the ambitious and relentless rhythms and grooves throughout the tracklist. The title track is profoundly different from the rest of the album, acting as this pondering, spacey instrumental coupled with suppressed saxophone, synths, celeste, and polyphonic and acoustic basses. It is definitely a sound of serenity, but because it runs only two minutes and ends kind of abruptly, it feels very underproduced and lethargic. Similarly, “Man From Molise” could have used more nurturing, but not to the extent as “Notes With Attachments.” It has a really tight bass groove, a ⅞ time signature, some interesting percussion tactics, dissonant acoustic guitar playing, synths, and our first introduction of harmonized vocals, but isn’t very memorable in the grand scheme of the album. In fact, this specific problem in “Man From Molise” is a looming problem for Notes With Attachments as a whole. For listeners who know Pino Palladino and Blake Mills’s classic works in neo-soul and blues-rock, the use of fleeting and sparse melodies, fractured grooves, and exotic instrument selections may turn them off from this album. Conventional groove is not something that is entirely gathered from Notes With Attachments, and although the album’s ajarring, improvisatory delivery is clear, it isn’t for everyone.
Notes With Attachments is certainly an interesting project to say the least. Its restlessness, ethereal, and sophisticated tone conveys Pino Palladino and Blake Mills’s determination and fascination with rhythm, dissonance, and groove. As the first release under Palladino’s name, it will definitely be alluring to see if he will continue down this path of obscure, collective instrumentalism or if he will return to the famous working session bassist we all know him for. Truthfully, his versatility and experimentalism in music is one of the many things that make him such an amazing contributor to all sorts of legendary albums and performances, and releases like Notes With Attachments that contain the same type of collective and experimental prowess will continue to harness his skills and influence.