Touching all basses

Israeli bass player Gilad Abro is content to play and develop his music locally, even without taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Bass player Gilad Abro (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bass player Gilad Abro
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Abro seems to be everywhere. Whenever a foreign luminary of the jazz world comes over, sans regular group, 32-year-old Abro is generally the bass player of choice.
Despite his relative youth, Abro has been on the scene a long time. “I started working at the age of 17, and I had regular gigs by the age of 19,” he says.
“It was a great honor to play with people who were much older than me. People like [veteran bass player and senior Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance staff member] Michael Klinghoffer influenced me greatly.”
In the latter’s case the impact was of a wider educational nature, rather than just helping to move Abro’s musical development along in the desired direction.
“Michael is such a positive person and he performs without an ego,” Abro notes. “He plays with everyone, together, you know with everyone all in the same boat, but without anyone trying to grab the limelight.”
Klinghoffer’s positive, sunny disposition seems to have rubbed off on Abro. In addition to the sounds and rhythms he produces on bass, Abro exudes an unrestrained sense of bonhomie and joy.
He puts his whole heart, body and soul into his work, and it provides for a captivating and endearing spectacle.
Abro is a great believer in spreading the good word, and putting it out there for the benefit of all and sundry. “There is room for everyone,” he declares. “If you look at the world’s great artists, not just in music, you get a sense of their humility. They are all constantly learning. And there is always something to learn.”
I caught up with Abro as this year’s Jazzahead international jazz showcase in Bremen, Germany, where he performed in the high-energy experimental LayerZ trio, along with guitarist Yonatan Albalak and drummer Aviv Cohen.
“You have to go with the flow,” says Abro. He, Albalak and Cohen certainly did that on the night in Bremen, as did the audience at the singular Schlachthof venue.
Despite his youthful entry to the world of professional musicianship, in fact, Abro began his musical path relatively late. “I started playing bass guitar when I was 16, which isn’t too early at all,” he notes.
It was a saxophonist who pulled him into the word of jazz.
“I heard Joshua Redman and that was it for me,” he recalls. “That really got me into jazz.”
In fact, Abro had been hankering for a bona fide musical instrument of his own for quite a while and, when it finally materialized, he was good and ready.
“As I didn’t have a guitar I’d ‘play’ on a tennis racket, doing all the fingering and chords to heavy metal and stuff by bands like Guns & Roses and Metallica,” he recalls. “I’d invite friends round to watch the ‘show.’ When I got my first bass guitar I already knew how to play it.”
With his first bass guitar finally in his hands Abro could get right down to the real deal. Mind you, he took a somewhat unconventional approach to the instrument. “I played it upright, like an acoustic bass,” he says. “I really wanted a double bass.”
That eventually happened but, meanwhile, Abro threw himself into honing his playing skills. “I used to practice every day, for seven hours a day. I used to go to shows by other bass players, like Avishai Cohen and Omer Avital, and I really liked [US bassist] Larry Grenadier. Grenadier does magic stuff.”
John Abercrombie, Steve Swallow, Bill Frisell and John Scofield also feature in Abro’s inspirational guitarist lineup.
Many of our top jazz artists relocate to New York to further their academic and street level musical education, where it really matters, at the epicenter of the jazz world, but not Abro. The bassist says that instead of moving Stateside he manages to experience something of the Big Apple scene in his own way.
“I play abroad a lot, and have worked with so many amazing musicians there and also in Israel. I played with the great [late iconic saxophonist] Johnny Griffin, and also with [now 83 year old drummer] Jimmy Cobb.”
The latter, who played with Miles Davis on the milestone 1959 record Kind of Blue, the biggest selling jazz album of all time, boosted Abro’s confidence no end when they played together here.
“I was playing a solo, and he turned towards me, smiled and just grunted. It was a grunt of approval.
That was really special. It was a magical gig for me and everyone else in the band.”
Abro feels he is getting along just fine, even without doing time in New York.
“I believe strongly in my musicianship. Some musicians feel you need to get something from New York, to make you a better jazz player. I think that, because I get the opportunity to play with all these great players from America, to some extent I am aware of what’s happening over there.”
But Abro prefers to plot his own course through the creative minefield. “I think I would rather play and develop my own music than be in New York and be the sideman of this or that well known musician.
It is a bit strange for a bass player to say that, because I always want to play with other people but, at the end of the day, you have to play your own music, and that’s what I am trying to do with the [LayerZ] trio and other things. It is your own music.
In the final analysis, that endures. That’s the really important thing.”
And Abro is currently in the process of sharing his best work with the rest of the world.
“I am looking for a label to put out the trio CD,” he says. “The material has been around for a while, and we recorded the tracks a few times because I wanted to make sure we got the right sound, and that we were getting the best out of ourselves. I believe that, if you do your best it will work, and people will get what you’re doing.”