A LISTENER must pay special attention to hear and appreciate the bassist within a jazz band.
The bassist's low notes are usually submerged beneath the band's clamor, but the bass is often the essential nexus between rhythm, melody and harmony in a piece. Bassists, long relegated to the shadows, are more and more often forcing attention to their contributions by recording albums as bandleaders themselves. Here's a recent sampling:
DAVE HOLLAND QUINTET --
"The Razor's Edge" (ECM, 833 048-1). England's Holland has been one of the best bassists in jazz for nearly 20 years, and he has matured into a masterful bandleader and composer. Like his hero Charles Mingus, Holland usually lurks in the background of his record, anchoring the blues bassist of the compositions but pushing his players to come up with truly revealing solos rather than mere licks.
Holland has assembled a brilliant band that includes fellow Brit Kenny Wheeler (one of the half-dozen best trumpeters in jazz) and three hungry, gifted kids from the New York jazz scene. The band has worked together long enough to make each piece a dramatic whole rather than just a series of solos. With strong melodic themes by Holland, Wheeler, Steve Coleman and Mingus associate Doug Hammond, this is one of the best jazz albums of the year.
JIMMY ROWLES/RED MITCHELL --
"I'm So Glad There Is You" (Contemporary, C-14032). Mitchell, a bassist, and Rowles, a pianist, have survived long enough in the tough jazz world to finally win some overdue recognition. This collaboration is a pleasurable if unsurprising collection of four standards and two Mitchell originals. Mitchell's fat tone and aggressive swing on the bass set the pace. Rowles' incomparable harmonic imagination on the piano reinvigorates the standards. The pianist's daughter Stacy plays some promising trumpet and flugelhorn solos. Mitchell adds his bluesy, humorous vocals to his own "A Simple Everyday Blues in F."
MARK JOHNSON'S BASS DESIRES --
"Second Sight" (ECM, 833 038-1). Johnson, the bassist in Bill Evans' last working trio, has put together an all-star quartet with Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine and two of the hottest electric guitarists in jazz today: John Scofield and Bill Frisell. In this eclectic collection of everything from country-swing and mainstream jazz to a fusion remake of "Twist and Shout," Johnson brings a melodic subtlety to the electric bass and an aggressive attack to the acoustic bass. Scofield's brittle, pinpoint attack contrasts most productively with Frisell's more fluid, sustained sound on this superb record.
DAVID FRIESEN --
"Inner Voices" (Global Pacific, OW 40718). Friesen plays a hybrid bass, an upright instrument with an electric pickup that has the warm tone of an acoustic bass but the bite of an electric bass. This album, which features Friesen with flutist Paul Horn and synthesizer Jeff Johnson falls into the new-age music category with its dreamy synth passages and rolling rhythms.
It's better than most new-age efforts, though, because Friesen's themes and variations are played so definitively. In addition to his eight originals, he plays simple but lovely versions of three folk songs.
DAN KRIMM --
"Sentience" (Overtone DK 1001). The recent, tragic death of Jaco Pastorius robbed jazz of one of its most influential bassists. Pastorius left behind a legacy though, of a generation of electric bassists who use the instrument in new and creative ways. Krimm emerges as one of the most promising of those heirs on this debut album. His compositions recall the Latin rhythms and melodies of Chick Corea's early '70s work. Krimm's funky but unpredictable attack on the bass recalls early Stanley Clarke.
CURTIS OHLSON --
"So Fast" (Intima, SJE-73274). This former bassist for Ray Charles and Sheila E. has assembled some of the San Francisco Bay Area's best young players for this debut fusion album. The playing is strong, but the arrangements are too stiff for jazz and too diffuse for pop. The album only comes alive when saxophonist Branford Marsalis guests on Ohlson's arrangement of Miles Davis' tribute to Willie Nelson, "Half-Nelson."