Lonnie Plaxico: Melange
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Lonnie Plaxico is one of those in-demand bassists, like Peter Washington or Dwayne Burno, who shows up on album after significant album, but, like most bassists, stays in the background. Attempting to gain radio play in the early 1990's, Plaxico led some of his own CD's, but fell into the smooth-jazz format in an effort to attain record-sales success. It didn't work. As Plaxico says, "I wasn't playing the music that reflects my experiences, and I still wasn't making money." Indeed. Plaxico ended up paying the difference in musicians' fees and other expenses to produce the early Muse recordings.
With such a diverse background under his belt, and at the successful buttonholing of Blue Note executives by Cassandra Wilson, Plaxico not only has released his first CD with the legendary label, but more importantly, he is playing his own music. Having worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Wynton Marsalis, Jack DeJohnette, Von Freeman and Dexter Gordon, one would expect Plaxico to come from a more traditional backgrounduntil one remembers his early work in funk, the true basis for M-Base, and his adoption of the electric bass as his first instrument.
Melange thus consists more of an funk beat than a hard bop one, George Colligan's organ deepening the groove unmistakably. Plaxico refers back to his early interest in the funk bands involving horns, such as Tower Of Power, Blood Sweat And Tears, Kool & The Gang and Earth Wind & Fire. Indeed, Melange includes one of the original Blood Sweat And Tears members, Lew Soloff, who definitely makes the rest of the opportunity to blow through five of the tracks and reclaim some of the attention that is his due, especially on the title track. According to Plaxico, Soloff was impressed by the difficulty of the charts that Plaxico wrote and showed them to other trumpeters in wonder and in determination to meet the challenge.
Plaxico's debt to those groups of the late 1960's and early 1970's is obvious in the fact that he makes one exception when he developed the repertoire for Melange: the inclusion of Tower Of Power's "Squib Cakes." Plaxico wrote all of the other tunes. "T.O.P.," with its lurching soufulness, is named, of course, after that sixties/seventies band-deserving-more-recognition, according to Plaxico.
Ever the generous leader, Plaxico creates a total-group sound and lets the horns, for the most part, lead the development of the tunes, while Plaxico's ever-present pulse, the basis for the tunes' energies, underlies it all. While all of Plaxico's earlier CD's were recorded in a single session, Melange involved two recording dates and two bands, the Pelt/Strickland group substituting for the Soloff/Ries configuration on the last six tracks.
A little funk, a little M-Base, a little gospel, a little Latin, a little balladeering, a little Miles, a little bop, Melange, in spite of its complexity, reveals just a hint of the talent and experiences that Lonnie Plaxico has gained through music in the twenty-five years of his professional life. At the age of forty, Lonnie Plaxico has paid his dues, and now it's time for him to mold what he has learned into an infectious and unique whole.
Track Listing: Squib Cakes, Melange, Darkness, Short Takes, Miles II, Paella, Sunday Morning, Beloved, T.O.P., Patois, Windy City
Personnel: Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Lew Soloff, Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Tim Ries, Marcus Strickland, saxophones; George Colligan, Helen Sung, piano, keyboards; Lionel Cordew, drums; Jeffrey Haynes, percussion
Record Label: Blue Note Records