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Eric Revis: Trajectory From The Tradition

R.J. DeLuke By

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The only way to exact your vision or artistic trajectory is to do things yourself. To take that step into leadership, from an artistic point of view. —Eric Revis
The development of an individual voice on the contrabass is important to Eric Revis, one of the strongest players on the scene. His power and musicianship has endeared him to some of the finer musicians, and bands, in jazz. But Revis isn't content to let things lie there.

Not that he has to be out front flexing his considerable bass muscles. That's not the point. Through bands that he forms, his compositions, his collaborations, he wants to grow as an artist. One who is always contributing to whatever proceedings he is involved in. One who makes his own mark.

"He's a phenomenal bassist," says Branford Marsalis, who has employed Revis as his bassist since the late 1990s. "He knows how to play the instrument. He knows how to get the right sound." The saxophonist is referring to a sound that's deep in the tradition, stemming all the way back to when the tuba played that role in New Orleans. Marsalis says Revis's playing comes through the tradition. He does what the bass is supposed to do while maintaining creativity "A lot a lot of players are not doing that. Some [bass players], I don't know what they're doing."

Marsalis is referring to many younger players who can play a lot of notes, but lose the feeling, lose the musical intent, in an effort to sound hip—or their perception of it. He has some disdain for musicians on other instruments who do the same. Revis shares that kind of feeling about some of the music on today's scene.

Revis says some upcoming musicians buy into people being hailed in the media as "the new thing" and try to copy them, even if the hype is warranted. "I've played with Kurt Rosenwinkel for years. Every guitarist sounds like fucking Kurt," he says, chuckling at the thought. "There's this weird thing going on, man. The idea of developing your voice. We all have influences and we all aspire to a certain thing. But now, it's kind of like, 'I'll sound just like him.' We'd tour with Kurt and we'd get to places and there were people dressing like the motherfucker and shit. C'mon. They're taking detailed pictures of his pedal boards. Not realizing that this is but a tool. He's going to sound like he sounds. That part of the scene has been going on for the past 15 or 20 years. That's somewhat disconcerting ... It's almost like the elements of swing have been taken out. Every record sounds like that."

Revis also feels that is part of a cycle and the music will be moved forward. He wants to be among them. He has been producing music with his own bands, and the acclaimed group Tarbaby, that has its own voice. It's created with a respect for the past with an eye toward individual creativity. Group creativity.

The album he put out earlier this year, In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed Records) is an example of that. It's a pianoless date with Chad Taylor on drums, Bill McHenry on tenor sax and Darius Jones on alto sax. It swings hard, it has blues and New Orleans elements. It doesn't sound like work he's done with others, which include Steve Coleman, Ralph Peterson, McCoy Tyner and Andrew Cyrille. There are threads to his other strong albums, like Tales of the Stuttering Mime, Laughter's Necklace of Tears and Parallax.

"It was pretty exciting," says Revis about putting together the album. "All five of my [previous] records have had piano or a chordal instrument. I've always been attracted to records and works that didn't have that. So I took it upon myself to meet that challenge. It's something that I was hearing anyway. Something that I always wanted to do. It seemed like a good time to do it."

Revis says there is a common thread through his last few recordings, though he is not covering the same ground. "The instrumentation has changed ... but the piano trio with Kris Davis (piano) and Andrew Cyrille (drums), it was much different than this one. But I think there's a thread. Maybe I'm biased in this shit. But there is a thread running throughout, which probably illuminates my trajectory."

Revis has known Taylor for years, from his early days in New York City. The same for Henry. He explains, "I was always a big fan of his stuff. I called him. I had a gig in New York. We started running into each other out in places. And had a mutual admiration society. I called him for a gig I was going at the Jazz Gallery, with Orrin Evans and Nasheet Waits. Bill came in and just killed it. His voice on the instrument is amenable to what I was doing and continue to do."

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