March 2011. by Greg Phillips
At the risk of requiring a witness protection scheme or having to dedicate my life to charity work as penance, I can no longer hide. I need to come clean … I was into fusion music in the late 70s. There … it’s done! My shoegazer friends and ultra cool acquaintances may disown me, but I feel at peace with the world now. I wasn’t into all of it mind you, just the good shit. The Chick Coreas, the Stanley Clarkes, the Jean Luc Pontys of the world. I’m thinking such anomalous thoughts as I sit in row EE, seat 22 at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre awaiting the arrival of Return to Forever IV, a band which includes three of the aforementioned jazz rock superstars, plus the amazing Lenny White on drums and Australian-born guitarist extraordinaire, Frank Gambale.
Earlier that day I had enjoyed a delightful chat with Return To Forever’s new guitar player Frank Gambale. It was he who triggered my memories of the form and took me back to the days when I immersed myself in Weather Report and Miles Davis. It was the enthusiasm of which Gambale spoke of his new ‘dream job’ that brought the music back to me. “It’s the jazz equivalent of joining the Stones,” was the analogy Gambale used to describe sidling up on stage next to these jazz legends in version four of Return To Forever.
Gambale is no stranger to jazz rock legends. He has played with Chick Corea in his Elektric Band for 20 years and spent some time in Jean Luc’s band too. Frank’s own fusion trio is also a musical experience to behold, and of course it’s important to mention that Gambale is a guitar pioneer himself, having developed the sweep picking technique of playing. On the morning of RTF IV’s second ever gig, with macchiato in hand, Frank begins to reminisce about his first memories of the legendary band he now inhabits.
“When I was thirteen, I heard ‘Hymn of the 7th Galaxy’ and that was it … I was away! I thought, what a perfect style of music. It appealed to me so much because it was interesting and intellectual. I was hooked. It was the best of both worlds … rock power with jazz intellect. Perfect!
You’ve played with Chick for many years and many other jazz icons, I’m wondering when you are up on stage, how much of you is still Frank Gambale the music fan from Canberra?
That’s a wonderful question. “I see myself as an equal up on that stage, however there was a time in my youth with less experience, where I would have been a little nervous about being in the presence of such great musicians. But I worked through all that because it was musicians of this calibre that I wanted to work with. I remember the audition with Chick and the mental process I went through to balance the situation which went basically as follows; 1. Chick needs a good guitar player that is why he is holding auditions. I’m a good guitar player and I know I can do the job. 2. Chick is a master at the keyboard. I am a master of the guitar 3. Chick is NOT a master of the guitar! I rest my case!
Anyone who wants to know about the gear you play can surf the net, but you’ve just entered into a brand new deal with DV Mark to play their amps …
Yeah. DV Mark, the guitar side of Mark Bass, who have come on really strong over the last couple of years. A lot of it is because they managed to get into the Guitar Centre in the States, the biggest music retailer in the world. The founder of Mark Bass is a nice italian guy, Marco De Virgiliis. Marco is where the Markbass comes from and DV is for De Virgiliis. “I spent quite a lot of time at the factory located near Pescara, Italy to work with this wonderful boutique company who make a really high quality product to develop the Frank Gambale Signature Amplifier Series by DV Mark, which will be released officially at the Frankfurt Messe in April 2011. I have always preferred to use solid state power amps ( PA amps 1000 watts, 500 a side running at 50% for huge headroom ) with tube preamps to get the tube tones both for distortion and EQ. In my opinion, this setup has the best of both worlds. What’s exciting about the new line of amps we’ve developed is that we have taken the same concept into a 1×12 and 2×12 combo and an amp head also, that is, solid state power and tube preamp. As far as I know this has not been done before. The results I have heard are spectacular… so much power and clarity for the clean sounds and so much power and clarity for the distortion sounds. DV Mark also have developed their own speakers which don’t use the traditional heavy magnet …. we have a signature FG 2×12 vertical slant cab in the range also, and all of these products weigh about a 1/5 of what you’d expect. Everyone’s going to feel like Superman when they lift these amps … which in most cases you can do with a finger! (this is only a very slight exaggeration! ).
So all your effects are through the rack? What’s the chain?
Yeah, a TC Electronic G Force. I have been using that forever and that’s it. I love it. Very simple set up. MIDI pedal, volume pedal…
My guitar goes straight into the pre amp. Pre amp goes out to my volume pedal, so I have a volume that is in the front of the chain. From there it goes to the effects in mono, out stereo to the power amp and that’s it. I love having either full distortion at any volume and I control the level of distortion from the guitar.
Meanwhile back at the Regent that night, there’s Frank standing on stage between Stanley Clarke and Lenny White trading licks as one of the greats. But more than the complex notes, which were infinite, you couldn’t help but marvel at the nuance, the feel, the musical camaraderie, the space, timing and intuition of a very special musical combination.“I have worked hard all my life at the thing I love most, namely music and guitar. All those years of practicing and playing and honing my craft have enabled me to be having the time of my life now playing in so many great musical groups from my Fusion Trio, my Acoustic Trio – Natural High, and my newest vocal group Soulmine , to the iconic Return To Forever IV. Life is good,” Frank had stated earlier of the RTF experience. As the audience rose to their feet for the last of many standing ovations, it was obvious Gambale was speaking for many.