STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Fred Vandenberg is reinventing himself. The guitarist-turned-bassist is celebrating the release of “Shapes Of Things To Come” (Vandertunes, 2015), the album that he recorded with his new trio.
The Fred Vandenberg Power Fusion Trio came to fruition as Vandenberg searched for bandmates to bring his new compositions to life. He found drummer Tom Cottone and keyboardist Carlo D’Alessandro to do just that. The trio will perform their first concert at The Rock Cafe in Harleysville on Feb. 21.
This is a departure from Vandenberg’s musical past. In the late ’80s he had the band Out to Lunch, a quartet that included Vandenberg on guitar, plus bass, vibraphone and drums. He followed that up with the World Beat Ensemble, a 10-piece band that featured exotic world percussion and his wife Gloria Galante playing harp. They released their eponymous CD in 1995.
As Vandenberg’s work opportunities gravitated toward solo guitar, he began composing music for that. He played 7-string guitar and that led into playing the 49-string harp guitar. Vandenberg released the acoustic solo guitar CD “Off.”
As performance opportunities dwindled, he delved deeper into his other vocation — sound engineering. Several years ago, as he was approaching age 50, he realized that he needed to get back into performing music, his “God-given talent.”
I interviewed Vandenberg by phone from his home and he discussed his new Power Fusion Trio album and his musical evolution from guitarist to bassist.
“I played guitar my whole life and about 5 years ago I decided to switch instruments. At first I got a fretted bass and I had a friend come over and he said ‘you’ve got that bass sounding like a fretless. You should just play a fretless.’”
Acting on that recommendation, Vandenberg “went out and got a fretless bass and that was it. I love the fretless bass, I love that sound. It’s my new voice.”
Vandenberg explained the concept behind his new compositions.
“I wanted to make music that (would) be fun to play and fun for people to listen to. My roots are jazz and fusion, and it’s a limited audience. What I tried to do is bring some elements into the music that make it fun. And I think that funky music is fun for people, whether you’re listening to Motown or a funk band… So there’s a funk backbone going through everything and then what I do is colorize my music with all of my new concepts, which are ‘shapes.’
“Over the years, studying all the great players – the Michael Breckers, the (John) Coltranes, the Kenny Garretts, the Chick Coreas, the Herbie Hancocks – when I listen to the music and I hear them play something and I isolate it and transcribe it and figure it out I try to relate it back to the original harmony. That’s my description of what a ‘shape’ is – when these players come up with these things that they play over these chords. So I took that concept and expanded on it… to have my own sound.”
Once Vandenberg was ready to record his compositions he had to find a band.
“I learned from the past to make my band smaller,” laughed Vandenberg. “But everybody who listens to the album says ‘it sounds like there are so many more players. It sounds so big.’ And I think that’s the composing side of it, to make things sound bigger.
“It took me a while to find the right players for the music. And it was good to go through that because I found the perfect players for the record.”
After asking people for recommendations, Vandenberg found Tom Cottone, who Vandenberg describes as “a monster player and total professional.”
And after having met D’Alessandro from doing sound for his other band, Vandenberg knew that he was the right fit.
“Carlo doesn’t read music at all, which was really a great thing for this project because my approach harmonically is very different from… what we’re taught in school, for instance, or stuff that’s out there.
“I’m trying to create my own thing and over the years you learn how to do that. Music is experimental as much as it’s artistic. It’s scientific and it’s experimental. And it’s about how to combine these things together … and Carlo is perfect for that. And he’s also really good at designing his own sounds. If I say ‘I need a sound like this’ he’ll come back with about 10 different sounds that he thought I was talking about, and they’re all great.’ He has no barriers because he’s an ‘ear’ player.’”
Vandenberg is excited about his new music and about finally having an opportunity to perform it live.
“It’s been an interesting adventure and it’s very exciting and I can’t wait to get out there and start performing this music with these great players.”