A smile breaks out on my face, and the joy is unadulterated. It’s the sound of the double bass. Sounding like a double bass. Swinging hard, sounding loud, airy and proud in the tradition of the instrument. The protagonist is Larry Bartley, and the first track from his album is a clear statement of intent. Unapologetic, hard swing alongside the masters of the craft. One might argue it was what the double bass was invented for. Strangely for a man who also plays electric bass, and learned electric bass first, Larry sounds like a double bassist through and through. First pulse, then tone, rhythm, then harmony, then melody. It is the perfect construct upon which to build a thoroughly pleasing introduction to Larry’s compositions, the first of which is called The Djinn.
On this track, the drum kit is light and crispy in feel, so that you can actually hear the harmonics of both the drums and bass – A feat amongst drummers and engineers. But drummer Tom Skinner and Engineer John Wilkinson blend to great effect, and there is no doubt that Larry would have maintained a strong opinion of how his instrument was to sound in the final mix. It was well worth the meticulous production, in any case. Right down to the clicking of the pads on the saxophone which gives the performances an acoustic reality and togetherness which is the hallmark of so many great jazz albums. This album is just very nice. It makes for wonderful listening. I should know, I’ve had it on for quite a while now, and as I repair my basses I set them hope that one day they-or I – might achieve Larry’s rotund, robust sound.The thematic nature of Bartley’s work – rather than the now tiresome head-changes head arrangement, leads the listener on a path of (self) discovery. The listening experience is awash with moods originated out of an emotional maturity no doubt fostered through a career of playing with leading front men such as Denys Baptiste, Courtney Pine, and Tony Kofi (to name but three).
Kofi appears on the album and his musical subservience to Bartley’s myriad themes and passages is refreshing. Never does he impose him self onto a section with the virtuosity for which he is renowned. Rather he listens, compliments the mood and gives a real sense of ensemble. There are moments of questionable intonation, but on the whole these serve to add to the authenticity of the work and remind the listener that this is something originated from living thinking people operating at the physical limits of the instrument.
It is refreshing to hear compositions where the performers have such a thorough knowledge of genre, stylistic overtures and phrasing and repertoire. The whole album, then has the feel of a group of friends coming together to reminisce on all the wonderful times they have shared together.This is by no means a smooth jazz album. Quite the opposite in fact. That said, on track 5 Portrait of John Francis, the Guitar of David Okumu can best described as sensuous, and only the tracks length would make it unlikely that you would ever hear it the next time your plane prepares for take off, or the next time you’re sat in the hotel lobby sofa watching the world go by. If only smooth jazz were this tasteful. Recommended if you like: Lalo Schiffrin, Issac Hayes, Olive Nelson, Charles Mingus, Art Ensemble of Chicago