layered solo bass and straight-ahead fun

Real Book (XTRAWATT)
Steve Swallow

Pendulum (ECM)

Eberhard Weber

By John Goodin

Two veteran bass players, both unconventional and innovative, both superb and sought-after sidemen, offer their own visions on Real Book and Pendulum.

Steve Swallow was teaching at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the '70s when the first Real Book was being put together and he was often consulted by the anonymous compilers of the fake book, a collection of transcribed jazz standards and chord progressions. He remembers the book raising the level of the musical conversation in Boston dramatically. His Real Book is a continuation of that musical conversation that jazz players love to have and a nostalgic glance back to those days.

Swallow has written ten original tunes in straight-ahead style including all the major food groups: burners, blues and ballads. He arranged them for a classic hard-bop quintet and invited friends Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano, Mulgrew Miller and Jack DeJohnette to play the parts. He even had the tunes charted out in classic Real Book style in the CD booklet, something I would love to see become a trend.

The playing and improvising are wonderful. If not for Swallow 's trademark electric bass guitar sound (check the intro to "Let's Eat"), you could easily imagine you are listening to an old Horace Silver or Art Blakey record. Everybody sounds great and the disc conveys that sense of fun that jazz players can share when they're blowing and not trying to make a serious statement.

Eberhard Weber's latest is all bass. Pendulum is a beautiful success in that risky genre where musicians overdub multiple parts to create a "solo" work. Using echo effects on his modified bass, Weber achieves an orchestral effect. Strong bass lines, high-plucked melodies, rhythmic ostinatos, bowed contrapuntal lines all merge into one rich blend.

The pieces are more compositions than tunes but still contain lots of traditional soloing. While the tone of the disc is necessarily dark, the tempos are often bright and dance-like. Although this is individualistic music consisting of one person's vision, it is not puzzling or difficult to understand. Weber's musical offering is to us, the listeners and not an exercise in technical bravado or self-analysis. lf you're in the mood for some bass, check this one out.