Following in the footsteps of the immortal Paul Chambers, Rodney Whitaker promises to become one of the better bassist/leaders on the current scene, taking only a bit of a back seat to the more ubiquitous Christian McBride. He has two accomplished releases already under his belt for the Japanese DIW/Disc Union label (1996's Children of the Light and 1997's Hidden Kingdom ) and now we have his third date as a leader out on Criss Cross.
Taking on the spirit of the old-fashioned jam session, the nine cuts here were recorded at Brooklyn's Systems Two Studio and alternate between blues numbers and ballad tempo cuts, thus the title of the disc. Whitaker's fondness for Paul Chambers, as hinted to previously, takes on the form of three of the late bassist's finest compositions, "Whims of Chambers," "Ease It," and "The Hand of Love." We also get one from the equally legendary George Duvivier.
Getting to specifics, while the more cooking numbers will whet the appetite, it's really the slower ballad cuts that are the most sumptuous. Whitaker bows radiantly on an improbable version of Carly Simon's "The Way They Always Said It Should Be." He then picks up the bow again for the opening dialogue with saxophonist Ron Blake that ushers in Whitaker's own tender and placid "For Rockelle," easily one of the highpoints of the entire album. Eric Reed's "Wise Young Man" is another beauty, full of the pianist's kaleidoscopic solo work. In fact, you'll hear some of Reed's finest recorded moments to date throughout. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris also blows some mean solos that present a more complete picture of his talent than is apparent from his own dates as a leader.
So who says the old blowing date has become hackneyed and out of style? Whitaker and crew make a case for the positive and also end up giving wider exposure to the repertoire of two of this music's finest bass players.
Whims of Chambers, Alone With Just My Dreams, Ease It, The Way They Always Said It Should Be, The Hand of Love, Wise Young Man, Centerpiece, For Rockelle, Big Foot (70:29)
Rodney Whitaker- bass, Ron Blake- tenor and soprano saxophone, Wycliff Gordon- trombone (tracks 7 & 9 only), Stefon Harris- vibraphone, Eric Reed- piano, Carl Allen- drums