Bassist Ari Roland makes a declarative statement at the top of Sketches From A Bassist's Album. His bowed solo near the beginning of "The Lion of Yerevan establishes that his leadership will consist of more than metronomic background timekeeping. Sketches is mostly comprised of Roland's diverse originals, with a couple of standards included for balance; a recent gig before an intimate, rain-soaked gathering at his home base, Smalls, followed the same pattern. (The only departure was that there was a quintet at the live set, whereas the group on the CD is a quartet.)
Roland's plucking ranges between almost ominous ("Replaceable Me ) to warp-speed celerity (the wonderfully frenetic "Swamp Thing Goes to the Indy 500 ). His bass playing is classically influenced, which probably explains why arco is his preferred solo style. At the show, as on the disc, Roland bowed solos that growled and sang, wailing during ballads and grinning during up-tempo tunes.
On the excellent "Mensch Blues Roland again bows from the top, then plucks behind Chris Byars' feathery tenor. Byars takes unconventional paths throughout the album, guiding his smooth, cool style along unusual routes and corners. Swingers like "Most's Paradise and the cyclonic "Mo's On highlight Byars' unique phrasing. And even if he occasionally short-arms a closing flourish of notes, stalling where he ought to soar, he still manages to construct unique and unconventional harmonic progressions that take turns onto interesting side roads.
With the fine piano work of Sacha Perry and the unwavering rhythmic drive of Phil Stewart on drums, Sketches should appeal to jazz lovers of all stripes.
The Lion of Yerevan; Most's Paradise; Replaceable Me; Swamp Thing Goes to the Indy 500; Mensch Blues; Ah, Transcarpathicus; Thou Swell; Byars-a-Maki; Mo's On; I'll Walk Alone.
Ari Roland: bass; Chris Byars: tenor saxophone; Sacha Perry: piano; Phil Stewart: drums.
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