Presenting DUOTUNES by Ken Basman and Doug Robinson
Every guitarist and in fact every musician in Mexico knew the name Ken Basman. Originally from Canada, Ken moved to Mexico decades ago, raised a beautiful family and quickly established himself as the finest jazz guitarist on the scene.
I first met Ken in 2004 and we discovered that we had a wonderful chemistry. We'd sit down and simply start playing improvised duets on everything from jazz standards to Turkey in the Straw. it almost always worked, with some passages sounding like something cool we'd arranged ahead of time.
He was also a talented engineer, and his recording studio attracted such notable clients as Donald Fagen, Lila Downs, Tyler Mitchell, Magos Herrera and others.
Over the years, we performed together as a duo, in groups and large productions. He was my best friend and my muse and he forced me to play better than I ever thought I could.
in 2016, we were in the middle of finally recording a duo album when he had a heart attack. It looked like he was going to make it and in fact, our last conversation in the hospital was about trying to find one more perfect song for our thing. Sadly, he passed away a few days later.
Here is a link to our album, which I finished after his death, and below are the liner notes.
I’ve been lucky enough to play with many amazing musicians but I doubt that I will ever experience another musical connection like the one I had with my friend Ken Basman.
Ken passed away in June of 2016, leaving a huge hole in the lives of his family, his musical colleagues and music-lovers everywhere. We’d been working on this album for some time, but at the point when he died we only had 7 finished studio tracks. Luckily I had been casually archiving our live tracks since 2004 (perhaps a little too casually--there are some clicks and pops here and there). After much deliberation I decided to include some of them here. What was to be the pristinely recorded debut album of DUOTUNES, our telepathically-connected improvised duo, has now expanded to become a historical document. I hope you can overlook the occasional audience member whispering or bumping into the mic. I owe friend/musician/engineer Kelly MacGuire a debt of gratitude for cleaning up such diverse audio sources to the best of his ability.
I could talk for an hour about our chemistry, but to sum it up:
When I moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2004, Ken and I immediately formed a band with two of the best players in town, bassist Antonio Lozoya and drummer Victor Monterrubio. One night, unbeknownst to me, Ken asked the rhythm section to drop out for a chorus during his solo on “Marcale, Sam.” I thought it was my turn to solo so we both started improvising simultaneously. We knew immediately what was happening but we kept playing, our lines weaving in and out of each other’s as if we’d rehearsed it. It was electrifying for both of us, a combination of chops, trust, intuition and dumb luck. This became a permanent feature in our shows and a great setting to explore our duo chemistry. I believe we rushed the band into the studio shortly after that night, and you can hear the results on band track “Marcale, Sam” (track 9).
As much as we liked playing in various bands together, playing as a duo was our favorite thing. We snuck it in whenever we could, sometimes in restaurants or concerts and sometimes just the two of us, alone on a Saturday morning to start our weekend off right. The lack of formal arrangements turned us on—we had a list of songs to use as starting points, but sometimes they’d be four minutes long while the next night they’d be epic 15-minute explorations that changed keys, time signatures or even morphed into improvised medleys. If our minds and hearts were open, then it would all work out.
He and I began recording this album in 2009, chipping away at it whenever we had a little time. We weren’t in a hurry to finish, because each time we played together our connection felt even more profound. However, we did finally get serious about wrapping it up in April of 2016, picking the tracks we liked the most at that point. Our last conversation in the hospital was him suggesting that we play Oscar Brown's "Dat Dere" when he got out.
Sadly we never got the chance to do a final selection as Ken died on June 21, 2016 from complications after surviving a massive heart attack. I lost one of my best friends and my closest musical compadre that day. I will always be humbled and grateful for the time we spent together exploring the art of simultaneous improvisation. And even though our bond was special, I was far from the only one who felt that way about Ken—his Celebration of Life Ceremony/Memorial Jam Session was attended by almost 400 locals.
I hope you enjoy and spread the word about this wonderful music and my friend, Ken Basman.
Recorded by Doug Robinson and Ken Basman at Act As if Studios and Citizen Ken Studios and between 2009 and 2016. Live tracks recorded by audience members at Romano’s, Teatro Santa Ana and Café Mosher in Queretaro, MX.