by John Ferrara
Personnel:Brian Bromberg - acoustic bass
Randy Waldman - piano
Vinnie Colaiuto - drums
Tracks: Caravan; Bolivia; Blue Bossa; Witch Hunt; A Love Affair; Butterfly; Shining Star; I'll Remember April; Pensativa; Carry On Wayward Son; Four Brothers; Let 'em In
Label -Artistry Music
With the release of Brian Bromberg’s CD “Wood II”, the listener is again tempted to think “there is Brian, and then there are the others”. His playing is so technically adept that it is hard to find equals in today’s bass playing arena or yesteryear’s. The obvious comparison to Scott LaFaro’s magnificent playing which was silenced all too soon is one which is a good starting point.
Brian seems to have taken the most startling aspects of Scott’s playing and launched them into an even more heightened virtuosity: complete mastery of the bass fingerboard, chordal passages comparable to the guitar, beautiful tone and intonation, and above all, changing the role of the contemporary bass player from one of walking subservience to one of improvisational equality and musical dialogue with the pianist in the trio setting. Percy Heath first heard Scott when he happened to pass by the Chicago hotel room where Scotty was practicing. It was the beginning a friendship between the two. Percy once asked Scott something to the effect “ why go to all that bother playing the bass like that – why not switch to guitar?”. This is how masterful that young player was.
I do not know Brian, but it is a safe bet that he was influenced by Scott’s style. What is astonishing is how he developed his own brand of technical expertise. There are others of course: Jaco Pastorious, George Mraz, Miraslav Vitous, Jay Andersen, Eddie Gomez to name a few. Brian has established his own sound and what a sound it is. He can turn the sound of the bass from one of the steady walker to the sounds of a versatile guitarist.
“Wood II” consists of a mix of originals and standards. The opener, Ellington’s “Caravan” eases the listener into a medium tempo rendering of the classic with Brian playing the melody on the 1st 16 bar “A” section. The tone he wrests from that old Italian bass is enough to knock your fillings out. The rhythm section is a beauty too: Randy Waldman on piano, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. The group swings elegantly. Where things really get interesting is in the Cedar Walton tune “Bolivia”, which is an up tempo barn burner where the pianist shows why he is on the date. He is the perfect foil to Brian, with technique and ideas to die for. Vinnie is a musical joy as the quintessential drummer in this setting. In the Kenny Dorham jazz standard “Blue Bossa”, Brian explores it as a bass solo demonstrating the phenomenal ability to sound like a one man band. His rubato intro is a virtuosic classic covering the entire range of the bass. The guitar strums and hand slaps are wild – hey, who needs a drummer or a piano player anyway! This tune really shows off Brian Bromberg’s musical personality and ability. It is a lesson in what hard work and practice and millions of gigs can yield.
Scott LaFaro was known to practice up to 12 hours without a break. I can safely speculate that Brian has spent the same efforts with his bass playing. Not only is Brian comfortable with the solo aspects but his walking lines are also magnificent. Listen to Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt” which is a more “traditional” trio rendition; man, does this group ever swing. One recording element which complements Brian’s playing is the evident use of compression on the two track master. It really brings his nuances and instrumental explorations to the forefront.
Brian proves himself a talented composer with “A Love Affair”, the sole original on the CD. This a straight eighth jazz rock (for lack of a better description) that is a lovely trio performance. I would say the tour de force on the album is on “Shining Star”. This is an excursion into overdubbing: 3 bass players, all of them Brian. What is really neat is to sit in front of studio quality monitors which is what I am doing as I write this. The placement of the individual performances into the left, center and right sound field really allows the listener to experience what one person who is both musical and wildly innovative can accomplish with a microphone and a great sound engineer (Tom McCauley).
There are twelve tracks on the CD. One I want to mention is “Four Brothers”, the Jimmy Guiffre classic. This could be called a novelty, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. The feature is Brian’s skillful whistling of the head as well as the improvisation. It is really neat and musical. A few years ago I played piano on a few gigs with a clarinetist named Brad Terry and his claim to fame was his incredible whistling improvisations. I never thought I would hear this unique idea again until now. Also, the last track, the Paul/Linda McCartney tune “Let ‘Em In” surprisingly serves as a very musical platform for another solo excursion by the bassist.
When I was a teenager, I played acoustic bass on many dance and jazz gigs and learned how difficult the instrument was to master. So I think I can really appreciate this recording on an another level (the strings on my old bass were so far from the finger board I could have used it to hang clothes!).
I highly recommend this CD. I don’t think this bass player has to worry about topping the abilities displayed on these tracks; that may be impossible. As long as he keeps this level of playing and musicianship everything he does will be classic.
I am quite sure that Scotty would have loved this CD.