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Granted, you wouldn't want a steady diet of a band fronted by five double bassists and a cello, but Lisle Atkinson's Neo Bass Ensemble more than accomplishes its stated goal on Bebop Meets Bass. As the title implies, these tunes are played in the bebop tradition with unique arrangements designed to fit the unorthodox instrumentation. Many of these chestnuts have been played every which way over the years, but Atkinson is able to use the fronting strings, two female vocalists and a rhythm section of piano, drums and, yes, another bass to add new dimensions to the music.
Each cut is approached from a variety of directions, and the wide-ranging vocals of Janet Steele and Marsh Perry Starkes blend into the music in a scat-bop way, deliciously invigorating Miles' "Half Nelson and Dizzy's "Bebop. The former begins things in somewhat traditional fashion, thanks to the core rhythms of drummer Richard Allen, pianist Richard Wyands and one of the half-dozen bassists, while the latter is a free-fall bebop burner that would make Dizzy proud. The lovely Satchmo vocal hit "What a Wonderful World has some of its sugary sweetness extracted through a delightfully dissonant cello courtesy of Elizabeth Kalfayan, plus Steele's operatic vocal. Another Dizzy tune, "Con Alma, is expanded into a suite-like presentation with a disunified bass chorus intro that segues into a string-led swinging fantasy.
Bassist Jay Starke's emotive bowing is a highlight of the Mingus paean to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Ellington's classic "Sophisticated Lady is beautifully delivered through Kalfayan's cello. Atkinson's original "CB closes the disc with all paying an aptly swinging homage to the Count. While some of the attraction of Bebop Meets Bass is akin to watching elephants dance, Atkinson and company are inventive and technically adept musicians whose basses can bop with the best.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.