April 2006

Charnett Moffett: Google Bass

During his solos with the McCoy Tyner trio, bassist Charnett Moffett will invariably startle purists by pulling out his bow and slapping the strings down by the bridge while fingering notes on the neck with his left hand. It's an unorthodox, percussive technique that relates more to the Brazilian berimbau than the acoustic bass. But as Moffett says, "Why not! Play what's in your heart, play what you feel. That's the way I see it."

That's precisely the attitude that the adventurous, multidirectional bassist takes on Internet, his ninth release as a leader and second for Piadrum. On this wildly diverse collection of originals, Moffett works the bow-slapping technique into the fabric of the title track, an unaccompanied showcase on the upright bass. The Juilliard-trained bassist strikes a distinctly classical mode with "Kings and Queens," then takes a decidedly punk stance on the raucous "RAS," full of edgy vocals, slamming backbeats and funky thumb-slapping pyrotechnics on the electric bass. He taps into the heightened energy of John Coltrane's great rhythm section on the modal "G.E.M."--an acronym for (Jimmy) Garrison, Elvin (Jones) and McCoy (Tyner)--then pays tribute to his former employer Ornette Coleman on "Mr. O.C.," which he performs on fretless electric bass. The blazing "Happy Dreams," a dazzling chops showcase on fretless electric, is teeming with Jaco Pastorius-isms, while his slippery glissandos on the piccolo bass throughout "Free Raga," an Indian-flavored duet with drummer Amit Shamir, recall U. Shrinivas' extraordinay electric mandolin playing with Remember Shakti.

On "Icon Blues," Moffett's solidly walking 4/4 lines on the upright honor the jazz-bass tradition; then he takes the same acoustic bass to places that Ray Brown never dreamed of on a raucous, Hendrixian rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," complete with distortion and wah-wah pedals. "I'm always looking for new ways to play the bass or discover something on the instrument," says the veteran bassist, who made his recording debut with his father, drummer Charles Moffett, at the age of 7. "The bass is a machine and it has its limitations. Believe me, I've tried to get things out of there that the instrument won't give. I guess that's why I got into the whole effects thing, because I'm always reaching for something else."

Despite the highly eclectic nature of his new album, Moffett maintains, "There's still a lot of music that I haven't tapped into yet, and it's just a matter of doing it when the opportunities are made available." One rare opportunity that recently came his way was to perform Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism" at a Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute to the iconic Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez. "He's unbelievable!" says the 39-year-old Moffett. "He's 87, and he's playing faster with the bow than I am. I just hope that I'm still around at that age, let alone playing the bass that well."

While Moffett continues to juggle engagements with Tyner and the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, a group he's been associated with for more than 20 years, he hopes to find time to perform his own music this year. "I'm kind of stretched out all over the place right now, but I'd like to be able to focus more on my own band in the future," he says. "I'd love to take a group out, do a world tour and share this music. Because what I'm really trying to do is bring people together on the planet through music. That's part of my calling here in life."

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