Tony Levin is best known as the bassist for prog rockers King Crimson, and has long been Peter Gabriel’s go-to bassist for recordings and tours.
But over the years the Kingston resident has also made a name for himself with a much more esoteric instrument — the Chapman Stick. The Stick, as it’s often shortened to, was originally designed by jazz guitarist Emmett Chapman to enhance his then-new two-handed tapping technique, and features anywhere from eight to 12 bass and guitar strings on a large fretboard. With its expanded range, players can produce both bass and guitar sounds at the same time, or focus on either the guitar side or the bass side of the instrument.
Levin was one of the first players to pick up the instrument during his early years with Gabriel in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
“It was the tonal difference [from a bass] that first attracted me to the instrument — also that its unusual tuning helps me think outside the box when fashioning a bass part,” Levin said via email while on tour in Japan with The Crimson ProjeKct.
“Through the years I’ve tried various techniques on the instrument, and those are very helpful to come up with a musical idea that’s different from what other bands are doing.”
Over the years, Levin has played Stick with Gabriel, King Crimson, metal/prog supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment and numerous other projects. Most recently, he performed bass and Stick on three tracks from David Bowie’s first album in 10 years, “The Next Day.”
The Stick Men
Where: The Van Dyck, 237 Union St., Schenectady
When: 7 and 9:30 tonight
How Much: $22 (doors); $18 (advance)
More Info: 348-7999, www.vandycklounge.com
On the road
The instrument has been Levin’s main focus with his new trio, The Stick Men, which also features drummer Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson and touch guitarist Markus Reuter, who replaced Stick player (and Saugerties resident) Michael Bernier in 2010. The trio has been on the road in Japan with The Crimson ProjeKct (King Crimson minus guitarist and mastermind Robert Fripp — Levin, Mastelotto and guitarist Adrian Belew), but is back in the States this month to headline its own tour. The group will play two shows at the Van Dyck tonight, the second date on this tour.
These tours are just the beginning of a long year of touring for Levin. In addition to more dates with The Stick Men, he will be touring with Gabriel in the fall for the European leg of the singer’s Back to Front tour in celebration of the 25th anniversary of “So,” on which Levin originally performed.
While he has enjoyed touring with his bandmates in King Crimson, along with Adrian Belew’s Power Trio, he’s looking forward to once again focusing on The Stick Men.
“Crimson is always pushing to renew itself, to try to break the musical boundaries we’ve had — in Crimson ProjeKct, we’re just having fun playing the old material!” he said. “Touring that way would be something less than challenging, so we combine the Crimson music with our own new music. . . . When we [Stick Men] play in Schenectady, it’ll be great fun for us to get back to doing the full show ourselves. More room to do all your music, which includes some challenging pieces from our previous albums, and all the material from the new album.”
That album, “Deep,” was released in February, hot on the heels of last summer’s “Open.” It’s the second full release with Reuter on board, and features both instrumental pieces and songs driven by Levin’s sparse vocals, composed by all three members of the group.
“We write in different ways, sometimes collaborating from the start, sometimes jamming to come up with ideas,” Levin said. “Sometimes Markus writes the pieces and turns it over to me to add my part, and sometimes I write in that same way.”
The album closes with the 10-plus minute “Whale Watch,” an instrumental piece Levin wrote based on his experiences whale watching in Cape Cod. Unlike many of the other songs on the album, he wrote the piece in his head and then focused on how to best translate it using Stick.
“The piece ‘Whale Watch’ is a 10-minute tone poem I’ve been working on for some time, experiencing musically the adventure of going out to sea to find and approach whales,” he said. “I think we got the feel of the excitement — our challenge now is to play it live the way we did on the recording. We’ve been rehearsing and practicing it, but have not played it live yet.”
Levin first formed The Stick Men around his 2007 solo album, appropriately titled “Stick Man.” The album primarily featured him on both Stick and bass, and required another Stick player to re-create live.
“The following year, I teamed up with Michael Bernier, a Saugerties-based Stick player who is excellent,” Levin said. “And the third guy was Pat Mastelotto, who had played on the album, and who plays electronic percussion in addition to his drum kit — giving the band a lot of tonal options.”
Reuter plays a custom-designed touch guitar with the band, utilizing much of the same tapping technique as Stick players but producing a different sound.
“Pat was already in a duo band with Markus Reuter, so Markus became the third member,” Levin said. “It changed the music significantly, as would any change in personnel in a trio, especially one that writes together. And Markus plays a touch guitar which he designed himself, so the options he has for playing are a bit different than mine on Stick.”