Saturday, March 16, 2019

Larry Grenadier - The Gleaners (ECM, 2019)

There have been innumerable solo albums by every conceivable instrument in jazz, most notably piano, but the acoustic upright bass, despite (or perhaps because of) its unwieldy nature has seen relatively few. But those have been quite memorable, career milestones from the likes of William Parker, Dave Holland and Peter Kowald have expanded the role of the instrument in jazz, taking it far from the role of timekeeper into the world of improvisation and composition. Larry Grenadier is a veteran bassist, who came up in the explosion of modern mainstream jazz talent of the early 1990's developed over a longtime collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau among many other talented musicians. This album is a thoughtful and impressive album for solo double bass, mixing originals by Grenadier, along with well thought out interpretations of numbers by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian. On tracks like the centerpiece "Compassion - The Owl Of Cranston" he appears to ask himself questions like how do you interpret a person through music? How do you evoke their being through sound, timbre and feel? Putting together compositions by legendary figures like John Coltrane and Paul Motian is an audacious idea but it works very well, creating a medley that is challenging and stimulating, while presenting itself to be worthy of careful consideration and attention. He is able to inhabit the whole of the instrument, playing the length and breadth of it and keeping the music continuously interesting. There is an introspective aspect to the music as there would be with any solo performance, but it never devolves into an exercise in navel gazing or playing for its own sake, but the music is constructed to engage the attentive listener as well. Aspects of classical music and jazz appear at times, as he displays a great deal of technique without trying to be overwhelmingly flashy, like on the wonderful bowing on "Vineland" which flows continuously without a break from beginning to end. The fascinating mixed version of Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" brings everything together, with a fraught bowed introduction and a deep plucked improvised middle section, giving the timeless standard a fresh and supple reading. All things considered this is a humble and well played offering, displaying all of the talents that Grenadier has developed over the course of has career, distilled into distinctive and commanding album. The Gleaners - amazon.com

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