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Artist’s Choice: Linda Oh on Duo Tracks Featuring Bassists

Jaco/Don Alias, Tim Berne/Michael Formanek & more

Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser in 2011
Linda Oh

There is a long history of duets featuring bassists. Classics that come to mind are the sessions with Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton as well as albums by Ray Brown (This One’s for Blanton! ), Ron Carter (Heart & Soul, Dialogues) and Charlie Haden (Closeness, Beyond the Missouri Sky [Short Stories], Night and the City, Steal Away).

I narrowed my list of favorites down to 10 that cover a range of styles and instrumentation. Ranging from 1945 to the present, some of the selections are more obscure than others, but all move me in very different ways.

Don Byas/Slam Stewart

“I Got Rhythm”
Town Hall Concert, Vol. 3 (London, 1974)

This foot-stomping track from 1945 makes me happy. Byas’ velvety saxophone tone slips and slides through the changes over Stewart’s immovable beat. I love the harmonic direction Byas takes in the second A of his last chorus, resolving into the bridge. Stewart’s arco bass/vocal solo is immaculate, never sacrificing the beat to execute his clear and melodic ideas.

Jaco Pastorius/Don Alias

“Donna Lee”
Jaco Pastorius (Epic, 1976)

Here Pastorius exhibits not only his technical prowess but also his inventive phrasing, which extends through the form in unexpected twists and turns, using extensions/substitutions not commonly found in bass solos. As Pastorius weaves through the tune with his articulate style, occasionally adding double-stops and harmonics and wrapping up with an effortless modulation, conguero Don Alias plays more of an accompaniment role, offering tasteful interjections.

Diedre Murray/Fred Hopkins

“Dedicated to Wilbur Little”
Firestorm (Les Disques Victo, 1992)

Bookended by excellent arco work from cellist Murray and bassist Hopkins, this simple, sentimental ballad travels many places. Hopkins’ solo interlude explores a range of dynamics and sounds-from striking double stops and hammer-ons, to lush sounds with full vibrato, to the extreme buzzes and rattles his instrument is capable of.

Tim Berne/Michael Formanek

“Jiggle the Handle”
Ornery People (Little Brother, 1998)

This track captures the listener’s attention instantly through a brief bass intro of percussive sounds and harmonics, followed by a plaintive and loose ostinato overlaid with Berne’s signature emotive sound on saxophone-direct and clear, sans vibrato. Also featuring Formanek’s excellent arco work, there is never a dull moment here.

Israel “Cachao” Lopez/Bebo Valdés

“Lágrimas Negras”
Calle 54 (Blue Note, 2001)

Cachao is featured with an arco rendition of the opening of the melody, full of emotion, vibrato and drama, and appropriate for interpreting the song’s lyrics. Valdés’ accompaniment is complementary and tasteful, as are the impressive percussive basslines underneath his clear and direct solo phrases and interpretation of the melody.

Rebecca Martin/Larry Grenadier

“Lush Life”
When I Was Long Ago (Sunnyside, 2010)

Beautiful and intimate, Martin’s understated storytelling combined with bassist Grenadier’s earthy sound and harmonic/rhythmic clarity provide, as always, the most elegant synergy.

Jen Shyu/Mark Dresser

“Kind of Nine”
Synastry (Pi, 2011)

Almost a minor blues in “kind of” 9/8, this haunting, plaintive melody is gorgeously sung by Shyu and grounded by Dresser’s rich basslines, with occasional arco and excellent double stops. His solo is concise, to the point and musical, using the singing harmonics he always plays so well.

Skúli Sverrisson/?”skar Guðjónsson

The Box Tree (Mengi, 2012)

A concise statement featuring a folk-like melody, played with a pure, breathy tone with excellent control, recorded with reverb that definitely invites you into a different space. Sverrisson’s beautiful and unique bass tone provides a loose, hypnotic chordal accompaniment, at times doubling the melody.

Brandon Ross/Stomu Takeishi

“Lotus Blossom”
For Living Lovers (Sunnyside, 2014)

Creating open, rich and deep sounds, Ross (on banjo) and Takeishi (on acoustic bass guitar) blend together perfectly. Takeishi has such a unique voice on the bass; his phrases are purposeful and focused and compelling throughout the entire performance. This track evolves into colorful swells and percussive elements, creating enveloping sonic textures.

Ben Wendel/Matt Brewer

The Seasons (, 2015)

It’s refreshing to hear the timbres of bassoon and bass together, both played with beautiful, warm tones. This track features Brewer’s relentless rhythms on the bass, super solid and precise. Both players take advantage of the whole range of their instruments, an important factor for duos playing instruments with similar ranges. Brewer always has interesting rhythmic ideas, and this collaboration is no exception-ideas that push and pull against Wendel’s beat, particularly in the bass solo.

Linda Oh is a celebrated bassist and composer whose most recent album as a leader is Sun Pictures (Greenleaf). She is also a member of the Dave Douglas Quintet, and will begin touring with Pat Metheny this year.

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Originally Published