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Brian Bromberg: Compared To That

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Since the ’80s, journeyman bassist Brian Bromberg has carved a niche for himself by creatively using pop repertory, and in the summer he continued that tradition with the release of three eclectic albums. On Compared to That , the hard-swinging record of the bunch, he draws from the likes of Chicago and Rick James; on Bromberg Plays Hendrix , he recasts the psychedelic rocker as a bass virtuoso; and on In the Spirit of Jobim , he delves into the bossa-nova canon with his masterful technique and the signature twang of his 300-year-old upright. On all three, Bromberg combines the thrill of a live recording with top-notch studio production. Along the way, friends like Béla Fleck, Randy Brecker, George Duke, Larry Goldings and Vinnie Colaiuta turn up to help out.

Bromberg references Les McCann on the title track of Compared to That , with a driving drum part that recalls “Compared to What” and features Bromberg cutting over the horn section on piccolo bass. The uptempo, straight-ahead “Rory Lowery, Private Eye” allows tenor saxophonist Gary Meek to show off his chops, followed by an effortless acoustic bass solo by Bromberg, who isn’t afraid to play in double time when the pace is already bright. “Hayride” is a highlight of the album, a Nashville-tinged romp backed by the Tokyo-based Rising Sun Orchestra and featuring Fleck’s effervescent banjo. The breezy cover of Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is the album’s first radio single, and it sounds like it. On closer “Give It to Me Baby,” Bromberg dips into the songbook of another bassist who liked to play fast and loose, Rick James.

Originally released in Japan, Bromberg Plays Hendrix , the collaboration with drummer Colaiuta, commemorates what would have been Hendrix’s 70th birthday year with somewhat faithful instrumental covers, substituting bass for guitar. Covering Hendrix in a jazz context is tricky business (outside of Gil Evans), and this album has some misfires-“Crosstown Traffic” especially doesn’t translate-but Bromberg’s distinctive voice makes it work in some spots. “Manic Depression” emits real heat on the melody line, and Bromberg displays serious funk prowess on “Freedom.” Things also coalesce on “The Wind Cries Mary,” with Bromberg laying behind the beat and digging in on his acoustic, something that worked well on Wood and Wood II . He opts for the electric bass on “Purple Haze,” offering a dizzying master class in slap technique.

On In the Spirit of Jobim , Bromberg’s deeply felt acoustic rubato introductions on “One Note Samba,” “Tristefinado” and “Talia” make the set. And he intersperses the album with his own compositions, adapting well to the genre on “Coastline Drive” and the introspective “Isn’t It Beautiful?” Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira contributes vocals on “Corcovado,” providing an added layer of authenticity and pathos. The album closes with “The Girl From Ipanema,” a flawlessly produced gem that might even make the L.A. freeway bearable.

Originally Published