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Although artists from Charles Mingus to Jaco Pastorius have left an indelible mark on the jazz canon, session-leading bassists were once something of a novelty. That seems to have changed in recent years, as ever more bass players have stepped to the fore on a variety of projects. Here are a few new releases worthy of your attention.
The prolific Jay Anderson has appeared on more than 100 albums for the SteepleChase label since 1988. It’s no understatement to say that the bassist was long overdue to lead his own session, since his last album as a leader was in 1994. Deepscape (SteepleChase) is a particularly inventive set. While Anderson adds stimulating commentary and takes occasional solos — playing over a drone on the self-penned title track, unaccompanied on Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and in duet with Frank Kimbrough’s harmonium on “Tennessee Waltz” — he makes thoughtful statements rather than showy displays of virtuosity. Most exciting are eight numbers from a pianoless quartet/trio with Billy Drewes on alto and soprano saxophones, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Matt Wilson on drums; particularly affecting are two Keith Jarrett numbers (“Shades of Jazz” and “Southern Smiles”) from Jarrett’s 1970s Ornette Coleman-inspired group with Dewey Redman, and Branford Marsalis’ Jarrett-inspired swinger “The Mighty Sword.”
Israeli-born bassist Avishai Cohen has led his own trios since 2003, the year that he started the Razdaz label. While Cohen is the obvious driving force behind the music of Arvoles (Razdaz), contributing every selection except the traditional title cut, this is very much a trio album with flute and trombone added for color to four of the 10 numbers. Cohen does not dominate the solo space and works closely with pianist Elchin Shirinov and drummer Noam David to form an attractive group sound. His music is often picturesque, sometimes hints at classical music, and is a bit nostalgic with some of the titles being “Childhood,” “Nostalgia” and “New York ’90s.” The gentle playing on the childlike “Arvoles,” the folk melody of “Face Me” and the happy straightahead closer “Wings” are among the highlights.
When listening to Charnett Moffett’s Bright New Day (Motéma), there is never any doubt that the bassist is the leader. While there are worthy contributions from guitarist Jana Herzen (who sings along with Moffett on “Precious Air”), keyboardist Brian Jackson, drummer Mark Whitfield Jr., and particularly violinist Scott Tixier, Moffett takes point throughout most of the performances on his fretless bass. To his credit, Moffett consistently keeps the results interesting while performing a variety of folkish and spiritual melodies. His approach ranges from heavy funk on “Feel the Spirits” to freer playing on “Netting.” He offers a thoughtful melodic lead on “O My God Elohim” and engages in intriguing interplay with Tixier on the title track.
A major force in the avant-garde since the 1970s, William Parker first put together In Order To Survive in 1993. The quartet — with saxophonist Rob Brown, pianist Cooper-Moore and a variety of drummers — was less active after 2000, but they came back together with Hamid Drake as their drummer in 2012. The double-CD In Order To Survive – Live/Shapeshifter (AUM Fidelity) features the music of both sets from the band’s second night at the Brooklyn venue in 2018. Parker, who has a thoughtful but forceful style (originally inspired by Jimmy Garrison, but quite original), keeps the music grounded even during its freer moments. He’s not shy about hinting at earlier styles on occasion, even while pushing the other musicians to be at their most adventurous. Not that Brown, Drake and Cooper-Moore need much pushing. The result is an intriguing, often fiery yet also quietly dramatic program of controlled but generally free music. The set has more variety than expected and never loses its direction. - Scott Yanow
Featured photo by Andreas Terlaak.