Friday, January 26, 2024

Confluence of the Basses

 Here we have three relatively new releases from three fine bassists and songwriters. This is powerful music that jumps out of the speakers and pulls the listener in.

"Ultraviolet" (Contagious Music) is the third album by the quartet of Billy Mohler (bass, compositions), Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Shane Endsley (trumpet), and Nate Wood (drums).  Like the previous two, the music is built upon the hardy interplay of bass and drums while the sax and trumpet often weave melodies around each other.  While this ensemble's shape is based on the classic Ornette Coleman lineup on the Atlantic Records he made with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell, the short opening track "Matador" leads one to believe that the real influence in the music is Dave Holland's 1973 classic ECM recording "Conference of the Birds" (with Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altshul). You can hear it in the interactions on tracks such as "The Wait" and "Aberdeen" as well as in the short, free-form, "Disorder II" and "I".  Only one track exceeds five minutes and that's the closing "Reconstruction" (7:57) –– after an excellent bass intro, the well-designed melody opens to strong solos from Speed and Endsley. Even though Wood does not solo, his drums are upfront in the mix and you hear how he listens to and prods the soloists.

Photo: Jenny Rolapp
"Ultraviolet" stands out for numerous reasons (compositions, musicianship, great sound quality) but especially because the music sounds so alive.  Released in October 2023, it's one of the better releases of that year or any year!

For more information, go to To hear more of the bassist's fine music and to purchase the albums, go to

Here's the title track:

Bassist Ethan Philion released his second album "Gnosis" (Sunnyside Records) in October of 2023, just 13 months after his powerful debut "Meditations on Mingus". The earlier album featured a wonderful 10-person ensemble playing the bassist's rearrangements of eight classic Charles Mingus compositions. The new album features three stalwarts of the Chicago Creative Music scene including Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Dana Hall (drums), and Russ Johnson (trumpet).  The six-song program features five Philion originals and one Charles Mingus but what a track!  The quartet swings, soars, roars, and explores its way through "What Love", the older bassist's musical contraction of "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "You Don't Know What Love Is". First recorded on "Charles Mingus Presents Mingus" in 1960 with trumpeter Ted Curson, multi-reed artist Eric Dolphy, and drummer Danny Richmond, the free-wheeling performance set the tone for a number of jazz artists of the early-to-mid 60s.

If the classic Mingus Quartet is the influence for the shape and sound of Philion's ensemble, his original compositions stand out for how he writes pieces to the strength of his group, how the music music builds on tradition without sounding stuffy or imitative, and how the power in the rhythm section (Hall and Philion are a muscular duo!) gives the front line music to work with.  There are "kick butt" pieces such as the rollicking opener "The Boot" plus "Sheep Shank" and the exploratory "Comment Section".  For a much different feel, listen below to "Nostalgia".  Philion's bass opening sounds like rain falling on the windows which leads to Johnson's somber melody line.  Ward warbles in the background while Hall adds percussion sounds.  When the trumpet and sax complete the opening theme in unison, the music takes on the feel of its title.  The pure tone of the alto sax blends with high, finely-etched trumpet before Ward takes off on an excellent wide-ranging solo. The rhythm section picks on his energy and really pushes the music higher.

The title track closes the program. Starting slowly, the music agains gains power as as it struts fowards with the rhythm section feediong off the interwoven lines created by the sax and trumpet.  This is the kind of music that sounds so alive and you want to be in the room as it is being created. "Gnosis" should warm the hearts of listeners who love adventurous music, excellent soloists, and musicians who really listen and create!  With his first two albums, Ethan Philion has shown he is a musical force to be reckoned with.

To learn more and to purchase the album, go to

Here's "Nostalgia":

For his fourth album (and third for Sunnyside Records) as a leader, bassist and composer Gui Duvignau pared his group down to a trio and decided to record live.  "Live in Red Hook" finds him in the company of pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell performing a program and nine originals plus one tune each by Ron Carter ("Eighty-One") and Baden Powell ("Deixa").  The trio deconstructs the Carter piece before diving into the recognizable melody while the lovely ballad by Powell gets the gentle touch.  The album opener "Idee Fixe" illustrates how the three musicians listen closely and interact and how comfortable they are with "opening up" the music.  Ellman-Bell really pushes Sacks' playful solo forward while the leader holds the center. Listen below to "Right? Wow!" for another example of the trio's playfulness and cat-like ability to instantly change directions.

Photo: Tatiana Kahvegian
Duvignau's composition are not only witty but also well-constructed.  "Miniature for Drums" has a gentle melody line that bass and piano keep repeating Ellman-Bell plays his cymbals and floor toms.   "One at a Time" has a Herbie Nichols-feel in the rising melody line –– the bassist is also quite melodic through the thematic sections, moving to a strong "walking" bass line while Sacks dances on piano.  The pianist also stands out on "Still Untitled" stating the melody with classical precision (with a slight sense of anarchy in the two-handed dance at times). The bass and drums happily play around through the solo, stopping, starting, bouncing, whispering, anything but playing it safe.     

The album closes with "Scriabingus" which reads like a skin ailment or what it really is, a piece influenced by two very different composers.  It gives the listener the opportunity to hear the leader create an impressive solo.  But, note how Sacks and Ellman-Bell acquit themselves in the service of the far-ranging composition.  "Live in Red Hook" was recorded over two nights in the Coffey Street Studios in Brooklyn –– if you are a fan of adventurous but not "free" music, you should dig into this new release from Guy Duvignau. It will bring a smile to your face and mind!

For more information and to purchase the album, go to

Give a listen to "Right? Wow!":

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