Living Colour’s guitarist and the ex-Ornette Coleman bassist let their Free Form Funky Freqs flags fly on the new Hymn of the 3rd Galaxy.
How many bands can pinpoint the exact number of times they’ve played together? “It’s rare,” acknowledges guitarist Vernon Reid of Free Form Funky Freqs, the power trio he co-leads with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston. Because “Free Form” is meant quite seriously—not a note of the music is planned in advance—every Freqs performance is a wholly unrepeatable event with its own distinct marker. This includes the three FFFF studio albums to date. The just-released Hymn of the 3rd Galaxy was performance number 73. Urban Mythology, Vol. 1, the band’s 2008 debut, was number three, after kickoff gigs at Tonic in New York and Tritone in Philadelphia (both defunct). Bon Vivant, the 2013 sophomore release, was number 15.
Owing to pandemic isolation, however, Hymn of the 3rd Galaxy was the first FFFF project to unfold asynchronously. First, Weston laid down his drums. Tacuma responded on bass. Reid brought up the rear with a pair of signature model Paul Reed Smiths and an abundance of digital and analog stompboxes, amp modelers, guitar synth floor units, and laptop-driven software synthesizers. There were no rules, save for this ironclad dictum: one uninterrupted take per track, no fixes, no overdubs. If it’s not “an organic improvised scenario,” in Tacuma’s words, it’s not Free Form Funky Freqs. It’s something else.
“I always dig an amp that’s gonna shake the room.” —Jamaaladeen Tacuma
“I just closed my eyes and pretended I was onstage with those guys,” Tacuma recalls. “The key was to keep the integrity of our process,” says Reid. “It was kind of like a self-imposed honor system.” This is, after all, a band that makes a point of not soundchecking together at gigs. “We have to explain this to house engineers,” Reid continues. “We’ll get sounds, then maybe check bass and drums, then guitar and drums. But we make it clear that the three of us are going to play only when it’s actually time to play.” To do otherwise would corrupt the method.
While their previous albums were live shows, the new FFFF opus was improvised in the studio—one artist at a time!
This improvisational purism makes sense given the band members’ overlapping histories in what Reid calls “the loose circle around Ornette Coleman.” The legendary alto saxophonist and free-jazz pioneer hired Tacuma for his groove-oriented ’70s band Prime Time, when the bassist was only 19. He later hired Weston, as well, at 17. “I was playing with [founding Prime Time drummer] Ronald Shannon Jackson,” adds Reid. “Calvin had played with Blood [experimental blues guitarist/singer James ‘Blood’ Ulmer].” There was a shared vein of experience in the contemporary avant-garde, and yet, as Tacuma observed to Reid one night, the three had never played together as a unit.
“We have to explain this to house engineers. We’ll get sounds, then maybe check bass and drums, then guitar and drums. But we make it clear that the three of us are going to play only when it’s actually time to play.” —Vernon Reid
Reid, of course, had also ascended to rock stardom with Living Colour in the late ’80s and cofounded the innovative Black Rock Coalition. For decades, each one of the Freqs had straddled genres and blown open the conversation about creative music in their time. It was practically fated for this band to form.
Vernon Reid’s Gear
Vernon Reid freqs-out on one of his PRS Custom Signature S2 Velas.
Photo by Sound Evidence
- Two Paul Reed Smith Custom Vernon Reid Signature S2 Velas (one with EMGs, one with DS pickups)
- 1958 Gibson ES-345 (on “Earth”)
- Line 6 Helix
- Kemper Profiler
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario NYXLs (.011–.049)
- Dunlop 205s, Brass TeckPicks, V-Picks
- Graph Tech TUSQ 2.0 mm (“It’s kind of a fetish,” Reid says of his fascination with picks.)
- Moog MF-107 FreqBox
- Red Panda Tensor
- DigiTech Space Station
- Eventide H9
- Chase Bliss Tonal Recall
- Chase Bliss Dark World
- Boss SY-300
- Roland GI-20 Guitar MIDI Interface
- Spectrasonics Omnisphere software synth
- Arturia Pigments software synth
Studio production for FFFF has been divvied up evenly: Reid produced Urban Mythology, Vol. 1, Tacuma took the helm on Bon Vivant, and Weston brought the remote recording of Hymn of the 3rd Galaxy across the finish line. Each album bears the imprint of its producer in some way.
Weston named the new album and the individual tracks as well, and the meaning of it all becomes clear when you pull up a map of the Milky Way (one of three galaxies, along with Andromeda and Triangulum, that dominates what is known as the Local Group). “Near Arm,” “Outer Arm,” “Norma Arm,” “Perseus Arm,” “Sagittarius Arm,” “Orion Spur,” “Scutum Centaurus,” “Far 3 kpc”—these are names that astronomers have given to the Milky Way’s various regions. In this environment, “Earth” and “Sun” (two more track titles) are just infinitesimally small dots.
“Bill Connors’ playing is so full of fire, but it’s also emotionally vulnerable in a way.” —Vernon Reid
The album title is also a conscious reference to Return to Forever’s 1973 album Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy—the fusion supergroup’s one recording to feature guitarist Bill Connors. “That record was very important in my development,” says Reid. “Bill Connors’ playing on it is so full of fire, but it’s also emotionally vulnerable in a way. I was very affected by the compositions, as well. When Calvin mentioned the title, it put this project into a frame for me—the idea of spatial ambience—and that did affect my choices for sounds.”
Those sounds are an amalgam of raw, plugged-in lead guitar crunch and otherwordly sonic glitter: notes that start as notes but become starbursts, or decay like pyrotechnic embers; chordal shapes that overlap and gather into big nebulous clouds. With his seemingly limitless tech-heavy rig, Reid has all frequencies covered.
Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s Gear
Jamaaladeen Tacuma brings his epic funk at the 2003 Ponderosa Stomp festival in New Orleans, where he performed with James “Blood” Ulmer and FFFF drummer Calvin Weston.
Photo by Joseph A. Rosen
- 1974 Fender Jazz Bass
- Aguilar Tone Hammer 500
- Aguilar 2x12s
- Korg ToneWorks G5 Synth Bass Processor
- JAM Wahcko
- JAM WaterFall
- JAM LucyDreamer
- La Bella various-gauge sets
The groove is just as essential, and Tacuma and Weston know how to bring it, whether it’s a slow shuffle (“Perseus Arm”), a mid-tempo Meters-like vibe (“Norma Arm”), or an outbreak of fast, full-tilt abstraction (“Far 3 kpc,” “Sun”). Regardless of feel, Tacuma’s criterion for a bass sound is straightforward: “I always dig an amp that’s gonna shake the room. I mean, I need that room-shaker. Coming up in Philly, hearing R&B groups at the Uptown Theater, which was like the Apollo, as long as that bass was shakin’ the room, that was the most important thing. Aguilar has proven to be a wonderful addition to my setup for the clarity and punchiness, and the ability to dial in certain sounds that I want.” Holding up the Korg Toneworks G5 synth-bass unit that he used on Hymn, during our Zoom call, he adds: “I’m not really a pedal guy, but now and then I’ll bring one out for a special black-tie occasion.”
Ultimately, what explains FFFF’s ability to create together on the fly is musical intelligence and empathetic listening. When Reid’s guitar is more enveloping and spacious and legato, Tacuma’s playing might get busier, and vice versa. “If you go outside right now,” Tacuma observes, “somebody’s walking, somebody’s running. Somebody’s listening, somebody’s talking. Somebody’s eating, somebody’s drinking. All these things are happening, and with music it’s the same thing.” For Reid, as well, deciding when to go for maximum synthesized mayhem (“Galactic Bar”) or a cleaner, more identifiably guitaristic tone (“Earth”) is a matter of attending to the moment. “It’s different than dealing with songs that have a verse-chorus-bridge,” he says. “This is a whole different kind of flow.”
“I’m not really a pedal guy, but now and then I’ll bring one out for a special black-tie occasion.” —Jamaaladeen Tacuma
When discussion turns to Tacuma’s other projects, such as his 2017 album Gnawa Soul Experience, the bassist suggests a link between the FFFF worldview and the time he shared with ethnic Gnawa musicians in Essaouira, Morocco. “Musically, I learned so much,” he recalls. “When they play all night and they don’t have anything written in front of them, and they’re just grooving and going higher and higher in the music, that’s basically what we do, when you put it in perspective. People relate to that; they can understand that.”With every Freqs encounter, the three bring new elements and ideas they’ve absorbed in the interim, and this keeps the music fresh and evolving. Tacuma and Weston continue to nourish their local Philly scene, mentoring and giving exposure to younger players. Tacuma’s annual Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival always provides a burst of energy. Living Colour is still percolating since the release of Shade, its sixth album, in 2017. Meanwhile Reid has kept additional irons in the fire, including the Zig Zag Power Trio (with bassist Melvin Gibbs and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun) and other projects. If he, Tacuma, and Weston keep up the pace, they could soon hit the big 100—the Freqs’ centenary performance. Stay tuned for that album.
Free Form Funky Freqs Live | Ch0 | 2012
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For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
The Cream Amp is a handmade low-gain overdrive pedal based on the Electra Distortion circuit.
The Cream Amp was designed to deliver full dynamics amp-like dirt to your clean and crunch amp or to another pedal in the chain without altering your tone too much. To add some grit at low volume or to make your amp sound more full, use the Drive control to set the gain and the Level control to match with your amp.
- Two knobs to control Volume and Drive
- Shielded inputs/outputs to avoid RF
- Filtered and protected 9VDC input
- Daisy-chain friendly
- Current draw: 7.5mA
The Cream Amp pedal is hand-made in Barcelona with carefully selected components and has a price of 100.00€. The pedals are available and can be purchased directly from the Ananasheadonline store.
For more information, please visit ananashead.com.
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.