Rufus Reid: Out Front and with Old Friends

J Hunter By

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Great bassists are worth their weight in Maine lobster. Aside from maintaining the foundation so the drummer can stick and move, a great bassist can offer a substantial counterweight to a soloist, plus an additional voice that expands a band's capacity for dialogue. By those measures, Rufus Reid is a great, great bassist, with a strength and dexterity that comes through whether he is a leader or a sideman. Here are examples of Reid excelling in both roles.

Rufus Reid
Out Front
Motema Music

While Reid had worked with pianist Steve Allee, and had "threatened to play" with drummer Duduka Da Fonseca for over 20 years, this unit didn't come together until Reid needed players for a 2007 trio concert. The results were so extraordinary that Reid decided the group needed to keep working together, "no matter what." While the wait for an opportunity to record may have been excruciating, Out Front shows delayed gratification can pay off big-time.

Although "Glory" starts out like just any another blasting opening number, Reid's composition turns out to be a sneaky, intricate maze that moves at a little over mid-tempo. The bassist lays the floor right down the middle as Allee fires off a percussive bebop solo and Da Fonseca bubbles under the proceedings. The Brazilian drummer sounds like he's working a counter later on, but the mix keeps him in the background so Allee's rising solo can have the spotlight to itself. Reid then takes his turn in the spotlight, serving up a forceful lyric that's delivered with the robust tone that makes Reid one of jazz's most valuable players.

Da Fonseca gets his due on the next track, because the driving backbeat of "Dõna Maria" challenges Allee to get bigger and bolder, which the pianist promptly does. Da Fonseca goes big near the end of his composition, bringing the thunder in rolling waves while Reid sets out a wicked vamp. The rhythm section gets a marvelous duo moment on the epic "Caress The Thought": Reid's deep, sonorous bowing first sets the tone for a piece that has one foot in jazz and the other in classical, and then returns in the middle section to the tune's initial stillness, before Da Fonseca lights the fuse on a percussion explosion.

Inspiration fills every piece on Out Front, be it standards like Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now" or one of the slew of crackling originals that make up most of the date. There's a clear sense that each musician is pushing himself a little harder and a little farther, and it's because of the company he's keeping. After making his mark as part of TanaReid and saxophonist Dexter Gordon's quartet, Reid has a unit of his own that could meet or exceed those high water marks. Hopefully, the gap between Out Front and the next disc won't be so long.

Visit Rufus Reid on the web.

Norrbotten Big Band
The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans
Fuzzy Music

Randy Brecker says fellow trumpeter Tim Hagans' ability to write music specifically sculpted for personnel in the Norrbotten Big Band is akin to the way Duke Ellington tailored compositions for the fabled players who peopled his band. Comparing anyone to Ellington is not to be done lightly. Then again, evidence of Hagans' skill set is all over The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans.

The driving opener, "Buckeyes," is head-bobbing good, but Hagans' arrangement is also smart as a whip, with an intense vibe right out of West Side Story. George Garzone's tenor sax disburses growling beauty from the low end of his scale as the band lifts him up with bursting fills; when the tempo is doubled, Garzone gets as clipped and sharp as the army behind him. Hagans breaks out for a solo of his own while pianist Daniel Tilling comps expertly, and then Hagans and Garzone babble back and forth as the piece "breaks down" for Peter Erskine's full metal jacket drum solo. "Buckeyes" is a 13-minute thrill ride...and it's only the first track.

Hagans doesn't write songs as much as he writes suites, with middle sections that may or may not have anything to do with what came before. The Frank Foster homage, "Box Of Cannoli," starts life as an all-out blast with full harmonies and a heavy undertone. Then, all of a sudden, the piece stops dead before it moves into the uncredited "Love Smiles," a luscious slow dance that lets Tilling create sweet beauty while Jan Thelin plays an enchanting counter on bass clarinet. The pregnant pause is more classical than jazz, but the quality of the piece within a piece makes the disorientation worth it.

What's even more worth it is the work of guest artists like Garzone. Just as Hagans' arrangements take NBB to the height of its powers, each guest piece frames its subject in the best possible creative light. Hagans calls Brecker "the scariest trumpet player around," and 1970s funk-bopper "Boo" lets Brecker get scary good; "Here With Me" finds saxophonist Dave Liebman sitting on a Manhattan rooftop, playing mournful soprano to the burgeoning dawn; and "Rufus At Gilly's" showcases Reid's singular sense of tone, lyric and whimsy, while Hagans pays tribute to his favorite Ohio jazz club.

In the short term, The Avatar Sessions is a great showcase for Hagans and the band he's helmed since 1996. In the long term, it advances arguments by Maria Schneider and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra that big units can still be centers of riveting drama and limitless creativity.

Visit Norbotten Big Band on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Out Front

Tracks: Glory; Dõna Maria; Reminiscing; Ebony; Caress The Thought; Dry Land; The Rise Of the Row; If You Could See Me Now; The Crying Blues.

Personnel: Steve Allee: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums.

The Avatar sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans

Tracks: Buckeyes; Boo; Box Of Cannoli; Here With Me; Palt Seanuts; Rufus At Gilly's; Song for Mika.

Personnel: Tim Hagans: trumpet/conductor; Rufus Reid: bass; Peter Erskine: drums, tambourine (2, 6); Daniel Tilling: piano, Fender Rhodes (2); Jan Thelin, Karl-Martin Almqvist, Hakan Brostrom, Per Moberg: saxophones, woodwinds; Bo Strandberg, Magnus Ekholm, Dan Johannson, Tapio Maunuvaara: trumpets; Peter Dahlgren, Magnus Puls, Ola Nordqvist, Bjorn hangsel: trombones; George Garzone: tenor sax (1); Randy Brecker: trumpet (2); Vic Juris: guitar (2); Dave Liebman: soprano sax (4).

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