29 October 2013

Driving The Bus (i)

Since moving to SoCal I've had the pleasure of meeting, hearing, and playing with a staggering number of outstanding jazz bass players. I have however occasionally been troubled by the evenness of attack in some of the walking lines I have heard here. The great bebop and post-bop bass players' lines were full of subtle slides, bends, and hitches; they constantly varied their attacks, often using extreme registers and unlikely intervals to create small- and large-scale contours that gave the music its signature propulsive energy.

I have had this thought before, but never about bass playing that was unimpeachable in virtually every other respect.

Walking bass is, of course, no longer quite the lingua franca of jazz that it once was, but the other ways of playing could probably use some of the same spice as well. Perhaps the notion that each individual rhythm section player's part should be interesting enough to listen to in isolation while nonetheless blending seamlessly with the whole remains strong advice. As someone who is trying to catch up conceptually more so than technically when it comes to jazz bass functions, I do sometimes aurally hone in on the bass player if the band I am listening to is in a feel which I don't fully understand yet. More often than not, I find that the playing doesn't quite meet this standard, even if you'd never think complain about much of anything in the total presentation.

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