Ask any budding electric jazz bassist who their biggest influence is, and chances are they'll cite the late Jaco Pastorius. And why not? During his tragically short life Pastorius revolutionized his instrument and contributed a small but significant body of work that's still being mined to this day. Why, then, is Steve Swallow so far off the radar in comparison? He's just as distinctive a bassist as Pastorius, and a writer who has penned classics like "Como En Vietnam, "I'm Your Pal and "Arise, Her Eyes. One listen to his collaboration with pianist Deidre Rodman on Twin Falls
and you may well ask yourself the same question.
Rodman is a pianist in her early thirties who relocated to New York from the American Midwest in 1997. Her two previous Sunnyside records, assisted by New York fixtures like saxophonist Tony Malaby and trumpeter Russ Johnson, were more cosmopolitan in comparison to the overt Americana vibe of Twin Falls. But despite its clear stylistic focus, Twin Falls also demonstrates Rodman's broader interests. "Sunday Drive opens in an almost Aaron Copland-esque fashion, but ultimately takes on a folksier air with a taste of gospel simmering underneath. The minor-key "Lullabye of the Grandmothers hints at Eastern Europe, while the brief and more abstruse "Skateland finds Rodman and Swallow seemingly at odds with each other until its final moments. "Disappearing Act begins with Rodman's classically informed solo but turns into the most jazz-centric and swinging piece on the record.
Swallow's pairing with Rodman makes sense the same way that his longstanding partnership with Carla Bley does. Rodman's approach is similarly spare, and the way she occasionally tosses in the oddest choice of notes demonstrates a similarly wry personality that mirrors Swallow and Bley duet ecordings like Are We There Yet? (WATT/ECM, 1999). But while Swallow and Rodman clearly share a similar sense of fun, they also appreciate the importance of a strong melody, and Twin Falls is full of lyrical themes, though they're sometimes couched in surprising contexts.
But back to Swallow. Since giving up acoustic bass decades ago, he's evolved an approach to the electric bass that some describe as guitar-like, and they wouldn't be completely wrong. But his lithe arpeggiated and intervallic-jumping approach is something all his own. And he still appreciates the importance of the bass as an anchor. What makes his playing so distinctive and remarkable is his ability to switch roles on a dime or, better yet, find ways to do two simultaneously.
Perhaps its Swallow's self-effacing and non-flamboyant style that prevents him from being a stronger role model to young players. While he's instantly recognizable in any context, he's at his best in smaller contexts. On the stripped-down duo of Twin Falls he proves there are few bassists as intuitive, lyrical and capable of sharing a dominant role. He's the perfect foil for Rodman, whose selfless approach to composition and performance keeps her on the list of pianists to watch.
Visit Deidre Rodman on the web.
Personnel: Deidre Rodman: piano; Steve Swallow: electric bass.