An Evening With Eddie Gomez

Mark Sabbatini By

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Eddie Gomez
An Evening With Eddie Gomez
Telling Pictures

Not many jazz fans would associate bassist Eddie Gomez with the likes of Milli Vanilli and Ashlee Simpson, but he had his own "lip syncing" episode during the Grammy Awards back in the 1970s during his famous stint with Bill Evans' trio.

That tidbit of acknowledged stupidity is among the many far-ranging nuggets in the 100-minute DVD An Evening With Eddie Gomez. A mix of informal discussion and performances with pianist Mark Kramer are part of the master class recorded in 2005 at David Gage String Instruments in New York.

It may not appeal to viewers looking for a concert disc or organized instructional video, especially since Gomez wanders off on various points during his talks. But upright bass players and fans wanting to know more about him and his techniques will find this almost as intimate and captivating as being there.

Gomez treats the audience of several dozen people (who, judging by all the coats, packed into the shop on an inclement night) like an extended musical family while discussing aspects of playing from the most basic concepts to the most nuanced. He assumes they knows the instrument and music terminology, even while reflecting on the daily challenge of playing a single note.

"Every note on this instrument is a challenge, as you know, because there's so much room to miss," he said. "So we're always trying to find that center, even after years of playing."

Discussion ranges from topics like tuning and thumb placement to memorable moments with other jazz legends and how he essentially bluffed his way through performances when he "didn't know what (he) was doing." His style is casual, straying from topics and retuning to them several minutes later. His thoughts on the merits of sitting verses standing are interspersed with comments about French verses German bows. Advice on dealing with pain and fatigue gets interrupted with remarks about pickups.

The performances—a few composed, a few apparently improvised—are stellar examples of Gomez's virtuoso technique, whether bowing, plucking or slapping. The experience is more educational than recreational, as Gomez thumps out percussion-like vocals that serve as a guide for the concepts he develops. The most notable piece may be Kramer's "A Beginning" ("This is one of the first pieces of music I ever wrote but I couldn't find a bassist to play it."), with Gomez working his way through a series of complex classical (bowed) and improvised (plucked) concepts that dominate the pianist's light classical vamp-like textures.

Production matches the setting: casual and solid overall, but rough in spots. Sound and visuals from Gomez's playing is captured well, but Kramer's piano has a distant quality that sounds like it was recorded with a remote microphone. A near-the-front-row sense exists in the video of Gomez's discussions and demonstrations, although some imprecise zooming, panning and other camera movement gives it less than a completely polished feel. The DVD is separated into thirteen performance and discussion chapters, each with detailed descriptions on the disc menu. But it would have been nice to have a printed cover insert with such information as well; instead, only a basic description of the documentary is included.

The quibbles on An Evening With Eddie Gomez are mentioned mostly so potential purchasers are aware of the nature of the documentary; they're not likely to bother those most likely to watch it in the least. One doesn't need to be a musician to follow the session, despite the occasional technical subjects, and bassists from beginners to experts are near certain to find useful hints as long as they aren't seeking something specific. Gomez may cover a lot of ground in less than a linear fashion, but his remarks and playing are always interesting and able to keep the attention of viewers until the end.

Tracks: Introduction; Performance 1; Every Note Is A Challenge; Comfort Zones; Performance 2 ("A Beginning"); Performance 3 ("Troubled Times"); What To Practice; Performance 4; Q&A Part 1; Performance 5 ("Missing You"); You Have To Breathe; Q&A Part 2; Performance Finale And Credits.

Personnel: Eddie Gomez: double bass; Mark Kramer: piano

Production Notes: 100 minutes. Recorded March 1, 2005 at David Gage String Instruments, New York City. Directed by Rob Epstein.

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