Friday, January 7, 2022

From the Bass Upwards & Onwards!

Photo: Antonio Porcar Cano
Bassist John Hébert, a native of New Orleans, LA, has made his home in New York City for the past quarter-century-plus.  He's been the foundation in groups led by Andrew Hill, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, Tomasz Stanko, John Abercrombie, Fred Hersch, Mary Halvorson, and so many more.  As a leader, he's issued albums on Firehouse 12 Records, Clean Feed, and Sunnyside.  Hébert has co-led a number of ensembles as well as appearing on a slew of albums in the past decade.  He has a great tone, his bowing is superb, and his compositions intelligent.

His third release for Sunnyside Records, "Sounds of Love", was recorded live in Lugano, Switzerland on March 27, 2013.  Hébert leads a most interesting lineup –– pianist Fred Hersch, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and drummer/ percussionist Ches Smith –– in a six-song set that includes four  originals as well as two classics from the pen of the great bassist, Charles Mingus. The longest piece on the program (12:31) is Mingus's "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love" which opens with Hébert in a conversation with Smith. They dance around each other for 90 seconds before the percussionist drops out and the bassist goes on alone for another three minutes. The band, sans Berne, enter with Bynum playing the theme and Hersch harmonizing around him.  The alto saxophonist takes over the theme for several lines before he and Bynum play the theme in harmony.  Hersch steps out for a sparkling solo then Bynum creeps in for a delightful turn, softly twisting his lines around the bass and piano as his cornet moves into and out of the melody.  Berne returns to play the melody while Hersch dances like a sprite beneath him.  

Photo: Western Michigan Univ.
The other Mingus tune, "Remember Rockefeller at Attica",  opens with Bynum squeezing harsh notes out of the cornet with the alto sax in the background.  Smith enters, Bynum exits, there is now even more urgency in the piece as the drummer slowly but steadily builds his solo. Smith pushes the song into the "hard-bop" gear, the rest of the band enters and it's off to the races.  Berne jumps out in front and into a conversation with Hersch and Smith while Hébert keeps the song on track.  Bynum is next, with notes exploding out of the cornet then stepping aside for the piano solo.  If you are used to the more melodic side of Fred Hersch, he can really "get down" when the music calls for it.

This is not to take away from the leader's music. "Constrictor" opens the album with Bynum, his muted cornet shouting at the audience until the rest of the band quietly enters. He keeps rolling while Smith and Hébert scramble beneath him.  Berne enters and the music begins to take shape with a regular pulse. Smith's rollicking drums opens "The Blank-Faced Man" until the bassist's rapid-fire lines actually lowers the intensity. The rest of the band enters as if playing a second prologue untill the bottom falls out for a solemn interaction between alto and bowed bass.  When Hersch reenters, his dream-like reverie plus the overtones coming from the bass lay the foundation for a handsome Gamelan-like melody played by alto sax, cornet, and percussion.

"Sounds of Love" ends with "Frivolocity" – Hersch leads the band with another delightful solo turn before the rhythm takes on a quasi-Caribbean feel.  Playful solos by Smith and Bynum, together and separately, play off the lively stop-start rhythm with a quick turn to a ferocious "walking" tempo. The song goes back and forth rhythmically with a short return to the theme and then out.  

Not sure why this music nearly nine years to an album release but, be that as it may, this is an excellent album.  John Hébert is not only a fine musician but knows how to shape compositions so that they have a personality of their own. It hurts not one bit that his comrades-in-music are also great players and able to move through the music with creativity and wit. 

For more information, go to  To hear more and to purchase the album, go to

Dig into "Frivolocity":

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
In the midst of Summer 2020, bassist and composer Boris Kozlov went into the studio for Posi-Tone Records producer Marc Free and mixing/mastering engineer Nick O'Toole with pianist/ organist Art Hirahara, drummer Rudy Royston, and vibraphonist Behn Gillece plus guest artist Donny McCaslin (tenor sax, alto flute).  The musicians spent four days recording a slew of songs resulting in albums released in 2021 from the pianist ("Open Sky") and vibraphonist ("Still Doing Our Thing").  Kozlov, who many jazz fans know as a top-notch accompanist on both acoustic and electric bass, now has issued the third album from those sessions –  "First Things First" (Posi-Tone Records) is actually the bassist's first for the label and second as a leader (which amazes this writer as Kozlov has appeared on so many albums). 

McCaslin's "Page One" opens the program. After a sombre piano, bowed bass, and vibraphone entrance, Royston and Kozlov kick the band into high gear with an energy level that rises from the rhythm section up. Gillece's solo, playing off the thick piano chords gleefully rolls forward until Hirahara takes over with his own joyous romp. The leader's finger-snapping solo follows goosed on by Royston's thunderous drums. McCaslin takes the piece out on the original melody. He trades his tenor sax for flute, Kozlov his acoustic for electric bass, for the bassist's "Flow", a lovely ballad sans piano and Royston on hand percussion.  Later in the program, McCaslin returns to the flute with the pianist moving to organ for the leader's "Once a Fog in Brooklyn", a medley of Russian folk tunes Kozlov remembers from his youth. McCaslin returns to tenor for his solo over the pattering drums and burbling organ. The exciting ending has such an uplifting and infectious feel. 

Photo: Anna Yatskevich
There is so much to like on this album. Kozlov's lovely ballad, "Aftermath", with its rippling piano and vibraphone phrases plus emotionally rich tenor sax.  McCaslin's "Second Line Sally" brings the band (minus Gillece) and the listener down to New Orleans.   The burbling organ, popping bass lines, and ever-so-funky drums hearkens back to the music of The Meters while the tenor sax dances out in front. Kozlov's overdubbed electric bass solo is so guitar-like, it's uncanny.  "Warm Sand", with its full piano chords and soft vibraphone, may remind some of Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson in those artists recordings for Blue Note. Gillece's "Mind Palace" opens quietly with the flute, vibes, and electric bass playing in unison as Royston roils beneath them –– the music goes into a series of fiery stops-and-starts before the tenor sax jumps atop atop the thrashing drums and deep, throbbing, bass lines.  The musical confection is topped by an exciting drum that leads the song to a quick exit.

After listening to "First Things First" several times, a number of thoughts became clear: 1)- what a great ensemble; 2) - how great the music sounds; and 3) - one hopes Boris Kozlov makes albums as good as this one on a regular basis. Dig in and dig this music!

For more information about the bassist, go to "First Things First" will be released on 1/21/2022. 

Bassist, composer, and author Gui Divignau, born in France and raised in Brazil, has slowly but steadily making inroads into the US jazz scene.  He first came to North America to study at Berklee College and, upon graduating, headed to Paris and to Portugal before returning to Sāo Paulo to lead his own groups as well as play in others.  He came back to the US to study at New York University where he encountered Drew Gress, Billy Drummond, Billy Drewes, and others plus did private study with Ron Carter.    

Duvignau's American debut album, "3,5,8", was issued last January by Sunnyside Records. The recording, all original pieces, featured saxophonist Drewes, drummer Jeff Hirschfield, pianist Santiago Liebson, and German guitarist Elias Meister.  For his second Sunnyside release, the bassist pays tribute to one of his Brazilian influences, the guitarist and composer Baden Powell (1937-2000).  "Baden" features Drewes, Hirschfield, and Lawrence Fields (piano, Wurlitzer) plus guests Bill Frisell (electric guitar on four tracks), and mentor Ron Carter (bass on one track).  The 12-song program features nine tunes (including one two-song medley) from Powell, four by Duvignau, and a two-song medley for the leader and Mr. Carter (one by the bassist, the other "Asa Branca" composed by Luiz Gonzaga & Humberto Teixeira).  

Photo: Edgar Tavares
The album opens with three songs from Powell and one of his most prolific co-writers, lyricist Vinicius de Moraes (1913-80).  Guitarist Frisell joins the ensemble for lively samba "Canto de Ossanha" and the more somber ballad "Tristeza e Solidāo" – the latter track, sans Drewes and Fields, may remind the work the guitarist has done with Paul Motian. The first original on the program, "Ao Baden", has a delightful melody and sweet interaction between the acoustic piano and bass before Drewes enters on alto sax. Notice also the fine connection between the bassist and the active brushes work of Hirschfield especially beneath the fine piano solo.  

Photo: Baden Powell 1970s
There's a strong hint of the blues and bossa on "O Astronauta" – you can hear it in the bass lines as well as the Stan Getz-like lines of Drewes on tenor sax.  It's a more "down home blues" presence that is quite evident on the two-song medley ("Bluesa Preta/ Asa Branca"), the duet for Maestro Carter and Duvignau. Both musicians have a lovely tone and articulate their notes so well, it's a pleasure to hear them together. A sense of mystery fills the music of "Canto de lemanjá", an ode to the Afro-Brazilan goddess of the sea, also known as Janaína.  The saxophone plays the gentle melody while the bass and Wurlitzer piano offer counterpoint.  Drewes and Fields solo over Hirschfield's steady beat, pushing the piece forward before the musicians return to the gentle opening.  The bassist imitates the one-string berimbau (overdubbing hand percussion) on the first half of the two-song solo medley that pairs the song with the instrument's name with "Consolaçāo",a song named for the central district of Sāo Paulo. The performance is quite beautiful and moving.

The album closes with Duvinau's piece "For Bill & Baden" which opens with a melody influenced by Thelonious Monk and the blues.  Pay attention to Fields piano below Frisell's delightful solo as well as during Drewes exuberant soprano sax spotlight – the pianist rises above the rhythm section for a fine ramble. It's a sweet close to a very pleasurable listening experience.  

Hopefully, Gui Duvignau, with his explorations of the music of Baden Powell, will pique people's interest into checking out the Brazilian genius.  To his credit, Duvignau truly shares the spotlight with his ensemble through the 74-minute program while still showing off how melodic and supp ortive a musician he is.  "Baden" is quite good!!

For more information, go to  To purchase this album, which will be issued on 1/21/2022, and others by the bassist, go to

Here's the bassist's "Mata Adentro":

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