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Brian Bromberg: Thicker Than Water (Artistry)

Review of "smooth-jazz decathlon" by the veteran bassist, with a guest appearance by the late George Duke

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Cover of Thicker Than Water by Brian Bromberg
Cover of Thicker Than Water by Brian Bromberg

Bassist Brian Bromberg’s 30-plus-year solo career crested with a 2002 release, Jaco, on which he deftly paid tribute to bass great Jaco Pastorius’ otherworldly combination of compositional skills and musical athleticism. Bromberg’s new CD, Thicker Than Water, like much of his catalog, primarily displays the latter. Recorded with 11 different basses, the 13-song release—featuring all Bromberg compositions—is akin to a smooth-jazz decathlon.

Bromberg is on the short list of bassists with skills comparable to Pastorius, yet even that late bass icon used horns and strings in his compositions rather than assuming his bass could be a lead melodic instrument. Thicker Than Water’s leadoff track, “Is That the Best You Can Do?,” features breathtaking slapping and tapping passages, yet cloaks them in a midtempo funk vehicle that sounds like a series of ’70s funk cliches. The subsequent “Minneapolis, 1987” employs guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and drummer Franklin Richardson III to create an homage to Prince, but Bromberg’s 16th-note flurries come across as self-indulgent.

The title track features Bromberg adding guitar-mimicking solos on a hollow-body piccolo bass amid nephew Zach Bromberg’s loops and keyboard programming and Najee’s tenor sax, resulting in hot-tub soundtrack music. Bromberg even blends strings and horns on one track, “Trials and Tribulations,” yet its reach exceeds its grasp.

Things improve during the less formulaic final selections. A legitimately funky “Uh-Huh” features one of the final recorded electric piano solos by the inimitable late George Duke. “Your Eyes” features a rare memorable melody courtesy of the bassist’s additional piano playing, along with percussionists Lenny Castro and Alex Acuña; “Land of the Rising Sun” is Bromberg’s ode to Japan, aided by the Rising Sun Orchestra’s strings, Mark Hollingsworth’s bamboo flutes, and Hiroshima’s June Kuramoto on koto.

Originally Published