December 2008

S.M.V.
Thunder
Heads Up

Bassists, and those for whom the bottom is tops, are going to love this. Others may well find it gimmicky and wonder precisely what the point is. There’s no denying the level of proficiency here: Any band fortunate enough to acquire the services of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten would have a head start regardless of who else turned up at the session. But three’s a crowd, and although the trio affords one another a wide enough berth so no fingers get stepped on (solos and writing credits are split evenly, give or take), ultimately the music takes a backseat to the spectacle: Thunder isn’t so much a cutting contest—it’s a collaborative affair, marked by mutual respect—as a strutting contest.

While the three bassists are never less than stunning in their mastery of the four-string, the listener will be hard-pressed to recall actual tunes when the album has run its course. “Maestros de las Frecuencias Bajas,” the brief opener, sets high expectations with its bath of lush orchestration framing the stringwork, but those promises for a more fully realized work are dashed as it becomes increasingly apparent during successive songs that the additional colorings—be it George Duke’s mini-Moog on the crawling “Lopsy Lu/Silly Putty” medley, or Chick Corea, whose piano, though under-utilized, comes as a welcomed respite in “Mongoose Walk”—are present more to fill space than to make significant contributions that might shape the music.

Miller’s production is often sparse, the better to showcase the stars, and by assigning one player to the low end while the others noodle above or harmonize, there’s never a problem picking out the individual basses. But it’s difficult to come up with a reason why all but the most ardent admirer of these aces, or aspiring fusion bassists, would want to revisit Thunder often.

Originally published in December 2008
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