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David Bass: Gone

Karl Ackermann By

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If Dave Bass ever decides to give up his day job as a Deputy Attorney General, he can validate that decision based on the quality of Gone. Bass returns to jazz after more than twenty years, but his priors include stints with Bobby McFerrin, global percussionist Babatunde Lea, and interpretive jazz vocalist Jackie Ryan. His Gone quartet boasts of former colleague, Lea, legendary saxophonist Ernie Watts, and veteran bassist Gary Brown. With one exception, the eleven tracks are Bass compositions, and all demonstrate inventive writing and arranging.

"Le Grand" opens the set as traditional swing, but Watts quickly speeds up the tempo with a blistering improvisational solo that rivals his best moments. Bass' own solo matches the sax for speed and complexity, and Lea's drive never lets up, as he directs the pace from fast to faster. In a collection this instrumentally good, vocals may not always feel like a welcome or necessary addition. However, the accomplished vocalist Mary Stallings contributes to two tracks and her smoky rendering of "Surrender" is a standout performance. Following the frenzied opener, it emphasizes a bluesy film noir feel reminiscent of Abbey Lincoln, while showcasing Bass' talent as a lyricist.

"Mi Guajira" has a distinctively Latin beat, highlighted by another stellar solo from Watts that leads into a piano solo that would make Gonzalo Rubalcaba take notice. The melancholy opening of "Lost Valentine" is the platform for some excellent bass work from Brown, who plays a deep, woody and intricate pattern before Watts launches into a soulful cry. An all-out swing number with scorching piano, "Since I Found You" leaves plenty of impressive solo time for the entire group, while "Someday," a blues/gospel-influenced piece, is essentially a stirring Bass-Watts duet that warrants repeated listens. The balladic "Another Ending" features some wonderful piano, with Bass sounding like the musical offspring of Mary Lou Williams and Abdullah Ibrahim, albeit with highly modernized rhythmic standards.

The title track, a mid-tempo tango, closes the collection, perhaps intentionally, with many of the elements that had come before. It implies punctuation on its musical stimulus without giving up the concept of moving on from those same influences. Advocates of stylistic separation, whether mainstream, free/avant-garde, Latin, etc., understandably find wild mood swings jarring. There's an art in putting together a collection that successfully takes on as many sub-genres as Bass does. Staying within the constitution and temperament of jazz, allowing for improvisation and being inclusive, is an underrated skill but it is also the essence of jazz. Listening to what Dave Bass has done on Gone exemplifies the capabilities of an artist who can combine a big-picture mindset and diverse talents. It's a great platform for the kind of musical and intellectual aptitude that can bridge varied attributes of an abstract process.

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