CD reviews: Getting back to bassists
Every so often you have a moment like this – a harmonic convergence. Or in this case, just as appropriate to call it a rhythmic convergence. It’s a gathering of the bassists.About a decade ago, it happened that four gods of the bass – Edgar Meyer, Christian McBride, Victor Wooten and the late Ray Brown – all performed in Aspen in a span of a few days; it may even have been that all four were in Aspen at the same time.We’re having another bass moment coming up. On March 13, the Wheeler Opera House has a pair of bass monsters, Wooten and Stanley Clarke, each leading his own band in a double bill. (I for one would hope and expect the two to appear together onstage at least for a little while.) As soon as that display of jazz-fusion virtuosity winds down, Mike Gordon, bassist for the jam-band Phish, starts thumping with his own band at Belly Up Aspen.March 13 is part of a bigger bass happening. The uniquely gifted bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding was the surprise winner recently of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, becoming the first jazz player so honored. (And let’s not mention to the Grammy folks that Spalding released her first album nearly five years ago, and that her 2008 album “Esperanza” earned much attention.) Meanwhile, Clarke took the Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his “Stanley Clarke Band.”Here in Aspen, we’ve been treated to appearances in the past two weeks by two prominent bassists: Dave Schools, known best for the deep grooves he creates in Widespread Panic, appeared with his side project, Stockholm Syndrome; and on Thursday night it was Chris Wood, of the trio Medeski, Martin & Wood.Following are review of recent bass-centric albums.
produced by Jared Slomoff and Gordon (Rounder)Pay attention to the lyrics, and “Moss” can seem like a self-analysis session for Phish bassist Mike Gordon. (Representative samples: “I can’t escape and I find that I need this fate”; “When something hit me, I fell to the ground and I felt strange”; “I can’t tell if this is a rerun flashback or something new I’ve never seen before.” Trust me, there are more.)OK, so don’t pay attention to the lyrics. And Gordon’s singing is likewise nothing special. But the music here is something any Phish phan can warm to – and, in fact, holds some attraction for the non-phan. Gordon’s vibe on “Moss” is easy-going; the rhythms are eccentric, always a step removed from a straightforward beat, often delivered with a New Orleans touch. (This might be traceable to the fact that five different drummers, including Phish’s Jon Fishman, appear, along with an assortment of percussionists and drum samples.) “Flashback,” one of several tunes to feature a horn section, is a highlight; “Spiral” casts a super-mellow spell. For the Phish lover, fast forward right to the final track, “Idea,” which has, in fact, been adopted into the Phish repertoire.
By the time Victor Wooten released his debut album, 1996’s “A Show of Hands,” he was already recognized as an incomparable talent, through his work with Bla Fleck & the Flecktones. Even so, “A Show of Hands” stopped people in their tracks. Sure, the music was at a virtuoso level, but the extraordinary thing was the way it was created – two hands, four strings, no overdubs, no other instruments besides some voices and sampled speeches by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Despite the spare instrumentation, it sure didn’t sound like anything was missing. It was all there – rhythm, melody, harmony. And funk to spare.On the disappointing side, “A Show of Hands 15” is not a new creation, but a remastered version of the original. On the plus side, there are three tracks added: an alternate version of “U Can’t Hold No Groove,” featuring drummer JD Blair; a new tune, “Flip Flop,” also with Blair; and “Live Solo #2,” a 12-minute display of some of the subtler tricks in Wooten’s bag, taken from a Flecktones performance.Also on the plus side: this music will always impress listeners.
produced by Doug Anderson (19/8)Gotta admit, Kermit Driscoll was not the main attraction for me here. Truth is, though the bassist, who turns 55 today, had played with a bunch of forward-thinking musicians (John Zorn, Don Byron, Dave Douglas) and also has a foot in the classical world, the name didn’t ring a bell.But I did notice that part of Driscoll’s quartet here is guitarist Bill Frisell, and I will listen to anything Frisell records. (And might you please come play Aspen sometime, so I can see what you do live?) Turns out Driscoll was a member of Frisell’s band from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s (just before I got into Frisell).”Reveille,” Driscoll’s debut as a leader, is splendid modern music, rooted in familiar jazz language but steeped in experimentation. And yes, there is plenty of Frisell; to my ears, this could almost pass for a Frisell album.Rounding out the quartet are drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and pianist Kris Davis.
produced by Dave Schools (Response)Spreadheads looking for the usual bass heroics from Dave Schools aren’t going to find them here. Though Schools produced Stockholm Syndrome’s second album, and co-wrote most of the songs, this band is stamped by singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph. But Panic fans – as well as fans of smart, edgy rock ‘n’ roll – are advised to give a listen. The opening title track is impassioned and epic, and the album doesn’t fall off much from there, with trips into bluesy tones, R&B, and meat-and-potatoes rock ‘n’ firstname.lastname@example.org