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January/February 2005

Rob Wasserman
Trilogy
Rounder

While he's earned more recognition and praise for his stints in folk, rock and pop, Rob Wasserman's technical mastery extends into jazz. The three-disc set Trilogy (Rounder) collects the releases Wasserman made in the '80s and '90s into one package containing the original annotation and updated notes from the bassist. It begins with Solo, a 13-tune session Wasserman recorded live without overdubs. The menu includes soothing ballads, fiery uptempo numbers, Gershwin interpretations ("Lady Be Good"), classically influenced tributes ("Ode to Casals"), fun numbers like "Punk Sizzle" and pieces that highlight his speed and range such as "Strumming" and "Freedom Bass Dance."

The Grammy-winning Duets pairs Wasserman with some amazing singers, all of whom seemed especially inspired during their performances. From Aaron Neville's shimmering falsetto on "Stardust" (much better than anything he later did on a jazz-themed work) to Bobby McFerrin's vocalese and more on "Brothers" and Cheryl Bentyne's vibrant "Angel Eyes," Wasserman proves the ideal partner. The disc's best number is a superb rendition of "Over the Rainbow" that features Wasserman in tandem with violinist Stephane Grappelli. The two immediately mesh during the song's opening moments, and marvelously develop and build the tune to a magnificent climax, turning a great but often-played classic into something fresh. A bonus track with Rickie Lee Jones covering "Autumn Leaves" wraps the second disc.

Trios presents Wasserman veering into diversified idiomatic territory. "Fantasy Is Reality/Bells of Madness" sees him backing lead vocalist Carnie Wilson and background singer/keyboardist Brian Wilson on a sentimental pop/rock outing, while Elvis Costello, Marc Ribot and Wasserman venture into a more comic-rock vein on "Put Your Big Toe Into the Milk of Human Kindness." The bassist establishes the rhythmic setting for some torrid soprano and tenor sax playing by Branford Marsalis and freewheeling answering piano by Bruce Hornsby on "White-Wheeled Limousine." Wasserman also delves into '30s-style hot jazz, rocks with Neil Young and Bob Weir on "Easy Answers" and plays a magnificent three-part solo bass excursion that sandwiches snippets of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" into a set of bombastic improvised pieces. But the gem of the entire set is "Dustin' Off the Bass," featuring Wasserman backed by legendary bluesman Willie Dixon and venerable session drummer Al Duncan.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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