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Brian Bromberg Continues his Journey into the Eclectic

A look at the veteran bassist's diverse sound

Brian Bromberg by Raj Naik
Brian Bromberg with (only) one of his five-string basses. (Photo: Raj Naik)

With 25 albums to his credit as a leader since his mid-’80s debut, Brian Bromberg is nothing if not prolific. The veteran of countless sessions has applied his virtuoso-level skills on a huge variety of upright basses and bass guitars to a rangy mix of soundscapes. There’s last fall’s high-energy Bromberg Plays Hendrix – 2020 Remix and radio-ready smooth-jazz productions like his new A Little Driving Music, as well as tributes to fusion giant Jaco Pastorius and bossa-nova heavyweight Antonio Carlos Jobim, and a bruising rock release called Metal.

“I’ve been blessed with the curse of diversity. I could play five different things that I’ve recorded, and you would have no idea who the artist is,” Bromberg says from his home about an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles. We talked in late January, almost exactly a year to the day since he played his last concert before the COVID shutdowns. Horses are the closest neighbors to his 20-acre property, worlds away from the studio action and hustle of L.A.

“I’m incredibly proud of that. But in a sense, it’s a detriment,” he continues. “It’s hurt my identity as an artist, because outside of a couple of bass solos where you might recognize my signature thing, you would have no idea who made [any given] record. That’s been one of the challenges of my career. I appreciate the guys that have an immediately identifiable sound. You could hear three notes of Marcus Miller and know it’s Marcus Miller. I’ve never been like that.”

The flip side to this, as he says, is no shortage of artistic freedom. And his fans seldom fail to follow Bromberg as he follows his muse, no matter where it leads. A case in point is the reception, among the bass community and beyond, to his Hendrix salute, originally released in 2012 and reissued in remixed form with one bonus track. That disc, on which Bromberg (wielding 11 different four- and five-string bass instruments) and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta play all the parts, features fresh takes on Hendrix favorites including “Purple Haze,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” The familiar melodies are frequently sounded by piccolo bass or fretless bass.

Why revisit a recording that has never lost its appeal among fans? Easy: Because he could. “I was proud of the first one, but I’m one of these guys who thinks good enough is not good enough,” he says. “Pro Tools and the recording mediums and the plugins sound so much better now. I knew—from a scientific standpoint, from a mathematic digital-clarity standpoint, from a distortion standpoint that your ear can’t even hear—that I could do a better job. I could make the basses sound better.”

The album’s new tune, an original titled simply “Jimi,” is a true fusion of styles, and one of the most rambunctious tracks Bromberg’s ever recorded: “It’s in-your-face, like metal meets funk meets rock meets jazz, and based off the vibe of ‘Voodoo Chile.’ Hendrix had ridiculous passion and love and energy, and he said so much. It’s not what he said but how he said it.”

Bromberg’s own drive to keep moving forward has resulted in two other projects that came to fruition during his unexpectedly extended break from the stage. Celebrate Me Home: The Holiday Sessions, his first Yuletide album, was also his first with full-on vocal tracks, courtesy of singers Chris Walker and Maysa. The entire recording was done in socially distanced fashion, as the leader exchanged audio files with the other musicians and played his own parts at his home studio, where he produced the complete tracks. “I’m a Jewish guy, and never thought I’d do a Christmas record—trust me. But that season always puts you in a good space. It was the first record I did in quarantine. It gave me confidence to know that I could do it that way.”

A Little Driving Music, also assembled home studio-style, offers a mix of accessible funk and bluesy pieces, with a horn section enhancing some tracks, and a cover of the bouncy 1985 Katrina and the Waves hit “Walking on Sunshine,” featuring guest saxophonist Dave Koz.

“I love doing covers that people wouldn’t normally think about,” Bromberg says. “That song was a global smash hit, one of the most feelgood songs of all time. With COVID, we need to feel good. With this political situation, we need to feel good. You’re instantly singing along with it the first time you hear it.”

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.