Talking Jazz

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The Independent Culture

The autumn deluge of CDs, when new albums coat the critic's floor thicker than the sycamores in New York, is notable for featuring a surprising number of bass player-led recordings.

The autumn deluge of CDs, when new albums coat the critic's floor thicker than the sycamores in New York, is notable for featuring a surprising number of bass player-led recordings. I hit a note of semi-startlement, because there is a view that the bass should be seen but only heard within the context of the rhythm section. The old joke about the safari camp hearing drums in the night epitomises the attitude: deep in the jungle the safari group are disturbed by the rumble of drums, but are reassured by their guide. "Drums good. When drums stop, very bad." This carries on night after night, each time the guide offering the same comforting words. Then one night they suddenly stop. The guide starts trembling. "When drums stop, very, very bad," he quavers. "Why's that?" he's asked. "Because," wails the guide, "when drums stop, bass solo begins."

This is, of course, a tease, and no one would tremble at the prospect of a solo by Ron Carter, Miroslav Vitous, Richard Bona, Dave Holland, Alec Dankworth, Avishai Cohen or Paul Moylan, some of the acclaimed bassists with new albums out. Or would they? For all too often when bass players are given the chance to occupy the spotlight the result is an exercise in self-indulgence of marginal interest even to other bass players (and I say that as one myself).

Carter is a good case in point. He is the possessor of one of the great double bass tones, and his new album, The Golden Striker, is a restrained and tasteful affair. But he has been one of the worst offenders in the past.

All double-bass-players like to slide up or down the strings, an effect that, when used sparingly, can be delightful. Left to head his own group, however, Carter sometimes takes to glissing around the strings as though he's a teenager with his first pair of Rollerblades. In the context of other groups, the double-bass solo can be a thing of glory - Rufus Reid's solo on Stan Getz's album Anniversary is one of the most sensuous sounds imaginable.

But perhaps because bass players can be thought of as the Clark Kents of jazz, they have an urge to rush into the phone booth and emerge as Superman. They should remember that blue tights and red cape look pretty silly if you can't fly.

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