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.