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Survey with the Strings On Top

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Beg your pardon for the atrocious pun, but it sort of introduces this survey of jazz and blues releases instrumented by bass and guitar players.

Bobby Broom
Song and Dance
Origin
2007

Chicago native Bobby Broom has been playing guitar since he was about eleven. He decided to become a professional musician after hearing guitarist George Benson kick ass throughout Bad Benson, and was invited on tour by colossal saxophonist Sonny Rollins when Broom was only sixteen.

You don't hear or read the phrase "song and dance man" much any more. All the mutations and manipulations of jazz make it easy to overlook or even forget the fact that in many of its best respects jazz is "song and dance" music: Numerous great jazz pieces first germinated as alternative workouts on the harmonic and melodic structures underlying popular songs; in addition, much great jazz was conceived and executed as music to be clapped, stomped and danced to.

In many of these best respects guitarist Bobby Broom's Song and Dance is a classic jazz album. "Jazz musicians have been doing this since the beginning, taking popular music and interpreting it," says Broom. "Each generation claims its own standards, and these are some of mine." His sixth release as a leader presents the intuitive sound of his trio with drummer Kobie Watkins and bassist Dennis Carol, with whom Broom has played since 1990. "These performances are as much about the sound of my trio and our overall presentation as they are about me," Broom notes.

What's most striking about this sound is how each musician contributes to its cohesiveness, which allows the leader freedom to dash about the arrangements and play multiple parts on his single instrument. Watkins and Carol inflate "You and the Night and the Music" with a new and genuine rhythmic bounce that catapults the leader between the original melody and improvisations thereupon.

Similarly, these arrangements of "Wichita Lineman" and "Where is the Love" set Broom free to "sing with himself": Broom plays the "Wichita Lineman" melody with little embellishment, accompanying his plucking with strummed supporting chords, and in a very personal, almost conversational tone—when he plays the lines "And I'll love you for forever/And forever's a long time," you can almost hear the actual words come through.

The roomy "Where is the Love" gives Broom space to play each line sung in point and counterpoint by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway on their famous duet, ringing out their lines clearly with warm, almost vocal-sounding, intonation. In each case, in almost every case on Song and Dance, Broom's resounding lack of pretence creates personal interpretations that allow the beauty of the original melodies to shine through instead of overpowering or obliterating them.

Ron Carter
Dear Miles,
Blue Note
2007

I've got to admit, I was skeptical. What kind of message to the late, great Miles Davis could this be without a trumpet or other horn player in the ensemble? Even considering Ron Carter, the bassist who rode through many mercurial musical styles, albums, and personas with Davis through the 1960s and '70s, as its conceptual and organizing force.

It features all the glorious power and articulation of Carter's legendary upright bass as he leads drummer Payton Crossley, percussionist Roger Squitero and pianist Stephen Scott through a program of standards that Davis' singular interpretations made uniquely his own. This includes Gil Evans' "Gone" and Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove," and also "My Funny Valentine," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Stella by Starlight" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." In fact, Davis' only songwriting credit here is "Seven Steps to Heaven," which he co-composed with Victor Feldman, while Carter contributes two tunes, "Cut and Paste" and the concluding "595."

Obviously a major relegation of musical labor takes place, as Carter and Squitero pick up the supporting harmonic and melodic roles generally played by Scott, and the pianist picks up most of the work on the melodic and improvisational front lines. Only a musician and bandleader as inventive, sensitive, and courageous as Ron Carter could make such a tribute work, while Scott proves worthy of Carter's confidence that he could carry so much melodic weight.

"My Funny Valentine" offers a true test of this ensemble and project, as it was an enduring Davis favorite perfect for his moody brooding. Scott does what Davis would do (and did): Caressing the melody in different places, exploring various pressure points, pulling in new connections (like Scott's quotes from "When I Fall in Love"), all to coax and create new beauty from within "standard" music. "Stella by Starlight," sketches the melody on as a framework around Carter's bass solo; where Scott catwalks through a similarly pensive mood.


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