Larry Grenadier: The Gleaners (ECM)

Review of the bassist's first album of solo pieces

Cover of Larry Grenadier album The Gleaners
Cover of Larry Grenadier album The Gleaners

Memories: While listening to Brad Mehldau’s early discs, I fully recall being knocked out by Larry Grenadier’s blend of poetry and pragmatism. The bassist’s solos would occasionally emerge from the trio’s exchanges, adding buoyancy while delivering an imposing yet inviting spirit. Fast-forward a quarter century and the first solo bass album by Grenadier pulls off a similar trick. Thanks to wise architectural ideas and a dedication to pith, The Gleaners is one of those records you’ll keep returning to. Assurance, comfort, expression, vulnerability—a manifold approach to emotion makes Grenadier’s recital an irresistible excursion.

The bassist’s work has long been bolstered by a lithe touch, and the supple way he addresses his instrument is key to the program’s personality. From the determined stride of his Oscar Pettiford homage (simply titled “Pettiford”) to the poised rumination of “Lovelair” to the chipper runs that define one of two bagatelles written by Wolfgang Muthspiel, the plunk of each string has a fullness that suggests more than one instrument at work. Clarity is paramount; Grenadier’s articulation abets his fluency. As he rolls through “Woebegone,” the eloquence of his design continually unfolds.

The bowed pieces augment the album’s textural breadth. Finding kinship in Trane’s “Compassion” and Paul Motian’s “The Owl of Cranston,” the bassist crafts a medley that drifts while it whirls. The title track works a facile theme the same way that Jenny Scheinman’s “The Lucky Hum” or “Albert” created their artful folksiness. Both string improvisers know the allure of a simple melody, and Grenadier’s savvy regarding catchiness—with a cinematic flair here and there—makes The Gleaners all the more mesmerizing.