You may recall John Snyder's name from his tenures at CTI, Horizon Records, and his own label, Artists Housenot to mention past Grammy winners lists (he's been associated with 5). By the time he was 30 he'd worked with such industry giants as Creed Taylor, Rudy Van Gelder, Herb Alpert and Ahmet Ertegun, as well as jazzers George Benson, Chet Baker, Jim Hall, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden.
Now 55, he's resurrected Artists House as a fully manifestoed nonprofit. Telling and fitting that with all Snyder's experience and wisdom on the business and the music, he's picked Oteil Burbridge as a showcase for his latest enterprise.
Oteil is jamband royalty, bassist to the Allman Brothers, Paige McConnell's Vida Blue, Government Mule, the now-defunct Frogwings and the legendary, never-say-defunct Aquarium Rescue Unit (ARU). He's also one of the most exciting players and soloists (jazz and otherwise) working today. While his music incorporates many influences besides jazz, let's just say his abilities and acumen as a jazz player and improviser are right there with the greatest, especially when taking the jazzy vamp into absolutely uncharted harmonic and chops-laden territory.
He's developed a signature voice on his intrument, perfecting the art of laying down jazz chord voicings on the bass, resoundingly rich and sometimes heavily altered, even within the context of southern/ roots/jam/funk/rock vocal tunes. As a linearist, he is clearly out of the school of the classic blues-jazz guitarists that populated his family's record collection in his youth, such as Benson, Wes, Tal Farlow, Grant Green, and Pat Martino. He could hang with any of them, as he's proven with his many guest appearances with Soulive, where he is used mostly as a lead instrumentalist. He's even ventured beyond the ultramodern take on the Bluenote tradition into technical fusion, as shown on the Steve Smith's project, "The Stranger's Hand."
While his self-released solo debut of 2000 was quite admirable, something about its squeaky clean, dangerously smooth -leaning production values and tightness of arrangements obscured the real, natural, organically-allowed- to-develop, take-another-chorus-please quality of Burbridge's and his Peacemakers' thing. Problem solved here people, courtesy of a number of factors, including Mr. Snyder's big ears. Another factor is the settling on and the settling in of the lineup used for the recording, the same one that's been along with Burbridge for his live efforts, helping to establish his "new" identity as solo artist with a consistent touring unit.
"Too Many Times" unfolds gently with a trippy understated intro, curvilinear bass fills, and the unexpected and, as it turns out, pleasant surprise of Paul Henson's vocals, rather than Burbridge's, carrying the melody. ARU fans will remember Henson's powerful, rock rasp from his post-Colonel run with the band. Multi-instrumental threat Jason Crosby 's piano gently interjects into the vocal line, until Kebbi Williams, the Peacemaker who has most elevated his game for these sessions, jabs in with a rotating sax phrase.
Guitarist Mark Kimbrell, who gets plenty of well-deserved space, lets loose with reverb-laced strat and two and three note clusters, as another vocal verse precedes Kebbi's solo and fade, wherein he exhibits a big tenor sound and swallowed notes that I don't recall from his arsenal. Williams has grown mightily as a player and as a featured voice in the band since that last outing, with diverse references, like his extended solo on "Full Circle" and extremely short intro to "Hard to Find," to no less than classic Coltrane sound and phraseology.
Burbridge and Henson's collaboration colors the six (of eleven) vocal tunes here, as Burbridge relinquishes all lead vocal duties, something he takes on when Henson's not there on the road. While even Burbridge might make the case that Henson has the superior pipes and comfort level at the mike, the decision might have been reconsidered for at least "Thank You," a very personal communiqué from Burbridge to the Lord. While Henson's earnest delivery and Jason Crosby's church-like organ fills bring weightiness the rendition, it calls out for Oteil's own unique vocal quality and commitment of spirit, especially to someone who's witnessed it done live, sung in unison with lead bass.
Notwithstanding the remarkable remainder, "Get Ready" captures the snapshot of the Peacemakers that I'd carry in my wallet. Like the ARU, they never forget to engage the listener before dolloping on myriad musical toppings. It's all hereHenson's powerful exuberance, Crosby's expertise on electric piano, Chris Fryar's loose Dave Garibaldi to Oteil's southern-fried Rocco Prestia . Now this is the grease that we've been hopin' would be left in the tapes! Replay Burbridge's warp-speed intro and his work over the simple outro vamp, scatting powerfully, effortlessly, modulating the keys, phrasing, bar line and rhythmic note groupings.
The beginning of the second bass solo section of "Time Won't Tell" illustrates another Burbridge signature, scatting over those incredibly big-sounding chords, implying multiple and dense harmonic possibilities, in a manner no bassist has ever done. Very few players on any instrument have wrapped their brains, voices and fingers around this not-to-be-copped element of Burbridge's style. Burbridge took to performing his solo version of "America the Beautiful" live, to thunderous applause, during his stint with the Mule , and it's the closer here, featuring heart-rendering chord voicings and effective pacing. It reminds us, as does the entire program, that Oteil and the Peacemakers' thing, although colored by manifold influences, is rooted deeply in a southern, very American tradition.
One of the greatest electric bassists of all time, Oteil Burbridge has finally made the recording that does his music most justice since his amazing live debut with the ARU in 1994. It, along with about 3 hours of added insight into the man and the band revealed via the fantastic DVD bonus material, should go a long way toward propelling him and the Peacemakers to well-deserved increased notoriety on the worldwide stage.
Personnel: Oteil Burbridge--bass, Mark Kimbrell--guitars, Jason Crosby--keyboards, violin, Chris Fryar--
drums, Kebbi Williams--tenor saxophone, Paul Henson--vocals