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Jay Anderson: Deepscape

Dan Bilawsky By

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Bassist Jay Anderson has long been the rock to locks things in place and the harmonic tether to hold it all together. He appears on more than 400 albums, having served as the anchor for everybody from Lynne Arriale to Frank Zappa, and he's one of the most steady and dependable low-end quantities on the scene. Never short on work as a sideman, his own leader discography has suffered a bit for it: Hard as it may be to believe, this is only the third album under Anderson's name, and the first to appear in over two decades.

With 30 years experience recording for Nils Winther's SteepleChase imprint, and nearly 100 albums to his credit on that label, it makes perfect sense that Deepscape should take shape there. And with the help of an empathetic assortment of friends, Anderson assumes the mantle of leadership with style and grace. Opening on the title track, a spellbinding solo improvisation layered atop a drone and met by sounds from the deep, he explores the zen of bass with expert taste. It's two minutes of pure peace that stands in quiet contrast to the version of Keith Jarrett's "Shades Of Jazz" that follows. Characterized by playful energy and bright swing doled out by drummer Matt Wilson, that '70s gem gives cornetist Kirk Knuffke and saxophonist Billy Drewes some elbow room to jostle.

As the program continues, Anderson shows time and again why his work is highly valued in so many different settings. On Morton Feldman's "Rothko Chapel (5th Movement)," the art of meditation melds seamlessly with the act of music-making as Frank Kimbrough fills the first of his three appearances on harmonium. Through "Southern Smiles, the aforementioned quartet makes a return trip to Jarrett's Shades (Impulse!, 1976) while placing an eye and ear on pliant groove play and bent melody. With a solo bass rendition of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," Anderson carves out his place next to artists like pianist Fred Hersch and Russell Malone who've made this modern standard their own. And during the album's centerpiece—a 12/8 "Time Of The Barracudas"—Afro-Latin allure underscores an environment where the sounds of stasis and the pull of individuality both survive and thrive.

The second half of Deepspace proves no less thrilling in its offerings and wide-angled wonders. First, the quartet, with some assistance from guest percussionist Rogerio Boccato, creates a composite "Sweet And Lovely" that showcases Knuffke's horn work in a triptych binding NOLA niceties, free-time stumbles, and Monk-ish moves. Then Anderson and company play on the exponential growth of a tone row with the intriguing "Momentum," explore a peaceable passion on Jim Pepper's "Witchi-tai-To," and gleefully shape odd phrases and barbs on Branford Marsalis' "The Mighty Sword." Finally, with only Kimbrough by his side, Anderson heads off into the distance with an absorbing "Tennessee Waltz." The fact that it took Anderson so long to take the reins again is a criminal offense; that he does so with such smarts and assuredness is his absolution.

Track Listing: Deepscape; Shades Of Jazz; Rothko Chapel (5th Movement); Southern Smiles; And So It Goes; Time Of The Barracudas; Sweet And Lovely; Momentum; Witchi-Tai-To; The Mighty Sword; Tennesee Waltz.

Personnel: Jay Anderson: bass, Tibetan singing bowl (3); Billy Drewes: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet (2-4, 6, 8-10); Kirk Knufffke: cornet (2, 4, 6-8, 10); Matt Wilson: drums (2-4, 6-10); Frank Kimbrough: harmonium (3, 9, 11); Rogerio Boccato: percussion (3, 6, 7, 9).

Title: Deepscape | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records

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