Photo by Brett Buchanan
There is nothing ordinary about the bass playing of Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament. Expanding upon the role of a traditional rock bass player with his use of the fretless bass, upright bass and 12 string bass, Ament has set himself apart in terms of his innovative playing style and his songwriting contributions. With the twin guitar attack of Stone Gossard and Mike Mcready as well as contributions from frontman Eddie Vedder, it could have been all too easy to lose the bass playing in the mix. Whereas most bands are content simply to allow the bass to provide the steady backbone to the song, Pearl Jam is at its best when the playing of Ament is afforded the opportunity to drive it. Alternative Nation has decided to take a look at ten of his best performances.
- Even Flow
Pearl Jam’s early albums are loaded with undeniable grooves that embed themselves into your brain. On “Even Flow,” Ament shines. Doubling down on the main riff during the verse, Ament pours in on the groove, aiding the guitar attack while providing a wall of sound. It is during the quiet, subdued bridge that Ament demonstrates his true talent and worth to the band on this early massive hit.
Bass playing serves many different functions depending on the taste of the listener. The sound of a fretless bass is one sound that may sound unfamiliar in an alternative rock song. While traditionally the use of the fretless bass is associated with different types of jazz music, Ament really helped the instrument find its role in alternative rock music. Ament almost exclusively plays fretless bass throughout the band’s debut, Ten, but never sounds as fresh nor as flawless as on “Oceans.”
- No Way
Throughout their discography, guitars dominate the majority of Pearl Jam’s songs. “No Way” is no different in that sense, but the way Jeff Ament’s bass lines sit in the mix and marry the guitars and drums together perfectly exemplifies his ability to play to the song. Great musicians look to serve the song and in this case Ament does that exquisitely.
- Amongst The Waves
Less can often be more. On “Amongst The Waves” the bouncy backbeat and swing of the drums lock in with the playing of Ament in a way that hoists this song to another level. Played straighter, the feel and the swing would be off. A rhythm section at their finest can make a good song great. This song perfectly exemplifies that.
The second track from the band’s second album, “Animal” punishes throughout. Ament leads the band with his bouncing and melodic playing during the chorus, holding down the rhythm while the guitars shimmer and ring. A song that thrives on dynamics, you can feel the punch of the bass whenever it retreats for a second, only to come crashing back in at the start of the verses.
On this monster of a track from the band’s third album, Vitalogy, all bets are off. The guitars scream, the drums sound thunderous and Eddie Vedder sings with such angst and crackling intensity you half expect his voice to give out completely. But underneath this frenzied discord lie some of Jeff Ament’s best bass playing on record. “Whipping” is sprinkled throughout with little bass runs that provide a whole other dimension to the song. Ament impeccably attacks his bass, offering up quick, melodic riffs sure to excite and offer something for every fan of bass playing.
- Tremor Christ
Despite how laid back the song originally sounds, “Tremor Christ” has a real immediacy to it. Another example of a less is more approach for Ament, his bass bounces during the verses only to set up a more melodic expressive approach during the chorus. The sound of the fretless bass really hits it’s mark as the bass line takes on a whole new life and roars to the front of the mix. Ament showcases a number of different approaches on this Vitalogy high watermark; with every approach working better than it has any right to.
- Glorified G
Sounding more like a country-punk mashup, “Glorified G” is full of sonic surprises. While they all work, none strike better than Ament; here, playing an upright bass. His refusal to conform to the norm not only in his bass playing but in the type of instruments he uses propels him to a whole other level. Playing an almost counter melody to the guitars, Ament’s innovative playing and desire to stretch the conforms of rock bass playing make this Pearl Jam classic not only one of their most interesting tracks, but perhaps their most unique.
One of the most recognizable bass line of the 1990s. With “Jeremy” Ament again stretches the boundaries of contemporary rock bass playing. Utilizing a 12 string bass guitar (Yes, 12 Strings!) Ament fleshes out the track with rich, ringing harmonics and melodic passages that provide the foundations of the song. Musically written by Ament, “Jeremy” lives on as one of Pearl Jam’s most recognized and cherished songs, and a lasting testament to the man’s talent for songwriting as well as bass playing.
Dirty, funky and gritty, “Rats” leaves me wondering, “Where the hell does he get that bass sound from?” Simultaneously. managing the feat of sounding like himself and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ament just owns this track. Constantly ebbing and flowing, the bass line never does what you expect, often pushing when it should pull and vice versa. Rarely, has Ament sounded so free and in complete mastery of his craft. Pure groove oriented bliss from a true icon and innovator of the bass guitar. Ladies and Gentlemen, the one and only Mr. Jeff Ament.