While the innovations of the late Jaco Pastorius continue to be felt to this day, he's not the only electric bassist to develop a recognizable fretless sound. Born the same year as Pastorius, Mark Egan has built his career around a denser tone and more eminently lyrical disposition. While Pastorius was capable of equal melodism but often resorted to greater bombast, Egan has remained distinctive and been a more consistent team player. As We Speak is a strong examplethe bassist's most open-ended blowing session as a leader, and a sharp contrast to the more produced Freedom Town (Wavetone, 2001).
Egan teams up with drummer Danny Gottlieb and guitarist John Abercrombie for this intimate trio date. Gottlieb and Egan go back over thirty years, best-known as charter members of guitar icon Pat Metheny's first group and their ongoing collaboration, Elements. Abercrombie may be the new face here, but his ability to fit any contextchameleon-like but always distinctly himselfmakes him the perfect choice.
While Abercrombie continues to record as a leader for ECM, it's been many years since either Egan or Gottlieb have recorded for the German label. Still, this double-disc set of largely Egan compositions, recorded over just two days, has a certain in-the-moment vibe that wouldn't be out of place on that label. Songs like the ethereal "Spirals, with Gottlieb's delicate cymbal work and Abercrombie's sixteen-note motif, constantly reharmonized by Egan's shifting harmonic center, seem custom-fit for ECM, opening up into a free middle section that recalls the chemistry of Abercrombie's work with the Gateway trio.
It's no surprise that Egan was listening to Gateway when he conceived this project. On the title tune he manages to double its lengthy theme with Abercrombie, while dropping down deep throughout to give the song its harmonic foundation. This kind of shifting roleplay makes the disc so compelling. But what's perhaps most remarkable is how deep the shared chemistry is for a first meeting. Egan and Gottlieb would be expected to have an almost telepathic connection, but Abercrombie sounds as if he's been playing with them for years.
While the overall ambience is atmospheric and light, and many of the tunes open up into freer space, Egan's not averse to writing changes. The bluesy yet lyrical "Mississippi Nights features Abercrombie and Egan trading off the theme, while Gottlieb's brushwork keeps a subtle groove throughout.
Four free improvisations on disc two manage to generate some added heat to this generally understated session. Egan's "Stiletto also motors along, with Gottlieb creating a lightly funky foundation, while the rubato "Plane to the Trane is driven by Egan's singing tone.
Egan has been a busy sideman with everyone from Gil Evans to Sting, but this effort is distinctive and special. One of those unexpected gems that crop up only occasionally, As We Speak suggests a personal direction that he should pursue far more often.
Personnel: Mark Egan: fretless electric bass; John Abercrombie: guitar; Danny Gottlieb: drums.