Rising Low shows the best bass players of our era together paying respect to one of their peers, but really, playing for their art. It’s a great tribute on both levels.
Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes tapped filmmaker and bassist Mike Gordon to direct a documentary about the creation of the The Deep End, the recording project that Gov’t Mule embarked on after bassist Allen Woody’s death. The plan was to record one track with ten of Woody’s favorite bassists, but once the invitations started, a list of twenty-five marquee players signed on and two volumes were necessary to capture all of the sessions.
In no particular order, this DVD features bass virtuosos Allen Woody, Alphonso Johnson, Bootsy Collins, Billy Cox, Chris Squire, Chris Wood, Dave Schools, Flea, George Porter, Jr., Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, John Entwistle, Larry Graham, Les Claypool, Meshell Ndegeocello, Mike Gordon, Mike Watt, Oteil Burbridge, Phil Lesh, Rocco Prestia, Roger Glover, Stefan Lessard, Tony Levin and Willie Weeks.
That list alone makes the DVD a must own for fans of any of the players, but the humor displayed by the filmmaker and the quirks that he brings to the project make it required viewing for any fan of music.
This is Gordon’s second full-length project, and his admission of not knowing exactly what techniques he should use to capture the essence of the bass is exciting and the viewer is never sure exactly what is going to happen next.
The Deep End could be used as an after school special introducing kids to bass, even with the PG language used by a few of the subjects. In addition to the musicians’ insights, Gordon interviews professors and musical therapists to get academic answers to the appeal of the low vibrations created by the bass.
Some parts are pure comedy, and would fit in on a really cool episode of Sesame Street, as when we see Gordon using different objects in his environments like a brick wall, ladder or trash bin to illustrate the sounds of a bass in making his point.
The abilities of Haynes and Mule drummer Matt Abts also take center stage. Playing with a different bassist every day is a challenge, and the new musicians never seem to miss a step.
Another funny scene is when Gordon talks to Flea. Before the film, the two had never met and as one might expect, they are an odd pair. The viewer gets to see how Flea’s mind works when Gordon asks him whether ego is important when playing bass.
Flea doesn’t know how to answer the question at first, but then says, “Ego is good in basketball, and basketball is a lot like music, so ego is good. Wait, fuck ego, ego is bad.” At this moment, it seems that Gordon and Flea make a connection.
Phil Lesh gives another great quote when he says, “Music is coming from the gods. We don’t create it, we are permitted to hear it when we are in the right psychic space.”
Paul McCartney’s influence as a bass player, and not only a songwriter is affirmed by the many references made by the assembled musicians.
The scenes of Allen Woody and his wife (the only one that calls him Allen) spending time together on the tour bus are like watching a true-life version of "Almost Famous." The film addresses the realities of life on the road and Mike Watt makes the best analogy when he compares being a musician to being a sailor, sending post cards home from each port.
The most poignant moment occurs when Gordon asks Greg Allman whether “the rock and roll world swallowed up Woody.” His honest reply is, “So many people do (get swallowed up).”
Indeed, with the death of John Entwistle soon after this film was released, drugs and rock 'n roll continue to consume artists before their time.
Allen Woody may be gone, but his memory lives through this excellent film, a video eulogy with humor and style that could only have been created by Mike Gordon.
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