Discs that focus on a single instrument are not that uncommon in jazz, but recordings focusing primarily on the bass are quite rare, even for bassists who lead their own bands.
Charnett Moffett's The Art of Improvisation joins the rank of such gems as Paul Chambers's Bass on Top (Blue Note, 1957) and, in particular, Ron Carter's Piccolo (Milestone, 1977) because Moffett also plays piccolo bass, an instrument invented by Carter, on three of The Art of Improvisation's 12 tracks.
The CD opens with "We Pray," a modal, Middle Eastern-flavored composition on which Moffett plays all three of his basses backed by drummer Will Calhoun. Even though he overdubs himself, the spontaneity of the improvisation is not affected and is even enhanced. "Moses," a trio piece that follows, continues in the same vein but has a more acoustic sound. The rest of tracks vary from the rock style jams of "The Story" and "The Star Spangled Banner" to the avant-garde spoken word and free blowing "Dreams" and the Tibetan-inspired "Call for Peace."
All but "Star Spangled Banner" are original compositions, and Moffett is also the primary (sometimes only) soloist. He wields the bass with the facility of a guitarist and, even though the solos are substantial in length, Moffett's thrilling improvisations wander far enough from the themes to maintain interest throughout. On the intriguing "The Story," he his arco produces electric guitar-like sounds out of an upright bass.
Among his many supporting and guest musicians, the two who stand out are Yungchen Lhamo, with her evocative vocal styling on "Call for Peace," and Angela Moffett, with her powerful and inspiring recitation of the Langston Hughes poem "Dreams."
Even though the idea of an entire album of mostly bass music may raise a few eyebrows, The Art of Improvisation is a very interesting and multifaceted recording that weathers the test of multiple replays.
We Pray; Moses; The Story; Dreams; Elements of Life; Call for Peace; The Awakening; Swing Rock; Enlightenment Part I; Enlightenment II; The Art of Improvisation; Star Spangled Banner.
Charnett Moffett: basses; Will Calhoun: drums; Angela Moffett: spoken word; Yungchen Lhamo: vocal; Scott Brown: piano; Pat Jones: guitar; Steve Barnes: guitar; Eric McPherson: drums; Charnette Max Moffett: drums; Robert Joseph Avalon: trumpet.
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