Rufus Reid/London Jazz Orchestra, The Vortex, London
The smoothest of stylings from one of the greats
Tuesday 04 June 2002
The pantheon of illustrious British double bass players features several called Dave – as in Holland, or Green. American double bass maestros tend to have first names beginning with "R": Ron Carter, Reggie Workman, Ray Brown. Doubly blessed by possessing both forename and surname initials starting with the 18th letter of the alphabet, Rufus Reid certainly belongs on that list, even though he is not as well known as those just mentioned. A largish, amiable man who looks like a slightly slimmer relative of Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, Reid was taught double bass by a member of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, and has since played with the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones orchestra, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and other jazz luminaries. He has a tone rich enough to threaten the audience with the confessional – the pleasure of hearing it narrowly misses being one of the cardinal sins – and his solos are so melodic that several of this reviewer's discs are in danger of wearing out through repeated listening.
His presence in this country is a rare treat, and his incredibly smooth walking bass lines provided an assured foundation for the London Jazz Orchestra's arrangements. This ensemble, conducted by the Guildhall's Scott Stroman, is as fine a big band as you'll find anywhere in Britain. Complex lines, tempi and dynamics were handled comfortably by the 17-piece orchestra, with energetic direction from Stroman. An American, although long resident here, he has an ease with his presence at the podium (not that there is one at the Vortex) that would elude a diffident Englishman. Stroman swaggered, he grooved, he used all sorts of strange movements that a Solti or a Karajan would not have recognised. At one point he could have been directing air traffic, at another enacting the children's rhyme, "Here's the church, here's the steeple, here's the doors, and here's the people." No matter. It worked. His diction I found harder to follow, though. I swear that he introduced one of the alto saxophonists as "Ralph Inoculator".
But back to the star guest, who was there not only as a player, but also as a composer and arranger. The introduction to Reid's arrangement of "'Round Midnight" was a dark, grainy Forties film, trombones mournfully contradicting each other like cacophonous taxis on a winter day on which the sun couldn't bring itself to rise. Reid then took the melody himself, anchoring the harmony with lard-thick slabs of notes on his extra-low bottom string. He put his bow to good use, too, swooping to the top of the G string with a quavery vibrato that could have issued from the throat of a loose-bosomed MGM starlet, then bowing near the bridge to thin the tone to an eerie whisper. The evening ended with Reid's impressive "Elegy" in memory of the great bassist Sam Jones. One day, not for many decades, one hopes, he himself will deserve just such a musical monument.
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