John Patitucci: Messaien’s Gumbo

In an album full of tributes of other musicians, my best guess at the target of this paean is the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, but this ain’t no chamber music. Rather, it’s a delicious bass-driven groove Patitucci so effortlessly plays on his electric bass. Blade brings to the fore the Big Easy funk sensibilities that he learned first hand as a young man, preferring to color the beat with well-placed flourishes over heavy-handedness. Lovano fashions some statements that are unhurried but memorable and staying in the pocket. When he returns after Patitucci and Blade’s fun little tête-à-tête, he’s welcomed with a “woo!” coming from presumably the leader and picks up where he left off with a tad more intensity.

It’s just an informal musical confab among three consummate pros who are letting their hair down without bringing down the level of musicianship. We as listeners are like auspicious flies on the wall.

August 18, 2009 · 0 comments


Cheikh Ndoye: Rewmi

Cheikh Ndoye has lived in the U.S. for about 10 years since leaving his native Senegal, where as a teenager he was inspired to take up the electric bass upon hearing Jaco Pastorius. He subsequently received encouragement and guidance from two heavyweights of the instrument, Richard Bona and Jimmy Haslip. A Child's Tale is Ndoye's debut release, an eclectic mix of Bob James's covers, more African-rooted originals, and fusion/contemporary hybrids.

"Rewmi" features the versatile veterans Eric Marienthal, Russell Ferrante and Mike Miller. Ndoye's vibrantly melodic opening statement sets the yearning, contemplative mood. Ferrante's concise yet radiant solo spot precedes Marienthal's keen-edged delivery of the spiraling theme. Marienthal's soprano sax solo exudes a controlled emotional heat, and is quickly followed by Miller's less restrained workout, the guitarist propelled along by Ferrante's emphatic chords. Alas, a fadeout ending comes much too soon. The slick Bob James tracks may garner the most attention, but "Rewmi" is probably more representative of Ndoye's vision.

March 17, 2009 · 1 comment


Jaco Pastorius: Kuru / Speak Like A Child

Jaco Pastorius was lucky enough to lure Herbie Hancock into performing on several cuts on Jaco's debut album as leader. Both players were steeped in the fusion movement at the time, but took the opportunity to showcase their prodigious straight-ahead jazz chops on this medley of "Kuru / Speak Like a Child." Pastorius wrote "Kuru," which slides into the Hancock-penned "Speak Like a Child" that came from Herbie's Blue Note album of the same name.

The performance actually starts out sounding like fusion Mahavishnu because it opens with a riffing string section. But Pastorius's circular bassline is the hook. It sounds like it is comprised of 3 or 4 notes, but it may be 10. It is played so fast you can't count. Once Jaco gets the groove going, Herbie has the impetus to do some real flying. The pianist has it all going on. Rapid-fire runs are followed by gentle chord passages. The man feels the music as much as he plays it. The rhythm section, which also includes the great percussionist Don Alias, continues to push the tune forward until it meets the strings once again.

Jaco took a back seat to his guest Hancock on this cut. Don't get me wrong; he was still an outstanding contributor. But sometimes the pure bassist in Jaco is forgotten in favor of the fiery innovator. Jaco's skills were just as much in evidence on a piece like this as on any of his solos filled with technical fireworks. Make no mistake about it. Pastorius still would have been a highly respected musician even if he had just fulfilled the role of the traditional bass player. He was great at that, too.

November 20, 2008 · 0 comments


Jonas Hellborg: Blue in Green

Early in his career, many fans compared Jonas Hellborg to bass superstar Jaco Pastorius. Musically, this was silly. They were both very great but different players. Hellborg was much more into chord playing than Jaco. This set Hellborg apart from about 99.9% of other electric bassists at the time. He also employed a unique string-slapping technique, though he overused it from time to time, which would soon become a standard sound in the bass lexicon. Jaco didn't slap.

The comparison to Jaco would be an apt, however, if fans were talking about the expected fame Jonas would soon acquire. But Jonas has made decisions that would not allow that popular recognition to take hold. He has said on more than one occasion that he does not care about fame or an historic career. He is interested only in playing music he wants to play. Over the years, he has certainly stayed true to that philosophy by releasing mostly noncommercial music on his own labels and eschewing the moniker of "Bass God."

Elegant Punk is a perfect example of Hellborg's immersing himself into the music rather than image. At the time of this solo recording, he was becoming well known for his wild fusion excursions. He would have sold many more records had he continued that type of sound on Elegant Punk. Instead, with one or two notable exceptions, he focused on the beauty of the bass guitar and demonstrated why it can be used for so much more than just bottom-end timekeeping.

His version of "Blue in Green" is a tasteful example of bass as rhythm, accompaniment, and melodic lead. It is full of subtle chords and evocative soloing. In a nutshell, he approaches the bass as if it were a guitar. That requires some serious thinking and even more serious finger-stretching to reach and play those impossible chords.

March 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Stanley Clarke: Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra, Parts 1-4

Even more so than his phenomenal contemporary Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke was the fusion genre's first electric bass superstar. This didn't make Clarke better or more important. The argument as to who was better will go on forever, and is pointless, really. Both players set standards that are still in place. But there were reasons for Clarke's greater popularity. His bass sound, even when playing rapid-fire runs, was smoother than Jaco's. This stylistic and audio difference helped Clarke introduce fans to the idea that the electric bass could be an important melodic instrument. Clarke was also a better-rounded composer than Jaco, so his tunes were more accessible. Additionally, after leaving Chick Corea's Return to Forever, Clarke made some wise business and music decisions that allowed him control over his music and those he played it with. On this album alone, he was able to bring in Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck and George Duke.

"Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra" is a full-blown bass concerto. While this piece is classical in the formal sense of movements, it is anything but classical in a musical sense. Part 1 is the slow movement. Hand bells, acoustic bass and piano establish a gentle tableau. Part 2 is definitely a fast movement! Clarke blazes a path. Duke is outstanding on synthesizer. Sancious wails on electric guitar. The full horn section joins in on an explosion of the movement's thematic riffs. The third part is propelled by a fast Gadd shuffle leading to a last short and sad movement gently punctuated by a wistful melodic undertone. In the context of such a written-out piece, improvisation is at the highest levels. The players are all outstanding. But, in the end, it is the composer's skill that stands out.

By the way, Stanley Clarke's smooth bass sound would eventually get the best of him. He lost his initial fan base, but attracted a larger one in the mainstream. In the last couple of years, however, there seems to be hope that jazz and jazz rock fans will once again hear the Stanley Clarke we once knew. In fact, at this writing, he is planning an upcoming Return to Forever reunion tour. While it is hard to criticize such a talented musician for taking advantage of financial opportunities, I am glad to see the artistic direction of some of his latest projects.

March 03, 2008 · 0 comments


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