STANDARDS / POWELL: Bouncing With Bud. STRAYHORN: Take the “A” Train. BERLIN: How Deep is the Ocean? ELLINGTON: In a Sentimental Mood. GOLSON: Whisper Not. TYNER: Inception. MONK: Round Midnight. PETERSON: Nigerian Marketplace. PORTER: It’s All Right With Me / Thomas Fonnesbæk, bs; Justin Kauflin, pno / Storyville SVL1018488
Thomas Fonnesbæk, the great, innovative jazz bassist whose music I have praised on this site since his 2017 album Synesthesia (Storyville SVL1014310), here follows that album up with a collection of jazz and pop standards recorded the same year.
As in that earlier release, Fonnesbæk proves himself to be a fearless bassist who takes his instrument wherever he wants at any given time, audaciously creating genuine lines and not just an “accompaniment” for his pianist partner, though in the second chorus of the opener, Bouncing With Bud, he does just that for a while. Kauflin is a good pianist who plays with imagination, but the discerning listener will realize here, as in his earlier album, that it is the bassist who is directing the musical traffic. Fonnesbæk inspires Kauflin but, to be honest, needs no one to inspire him.
When Fonnesbæk takes solos, he is prepped and ready. He makes Jimmy Blanton’s solos in the early-‘40s Ellington band sound simple, just as Blanton completely upset the bass-playing hierarchy of his day. Moreover, his is both a melodic and a rhythmic approach, the notes literally bouncing in the acoustic space of the recording studio.
But if you think Bouncing With Bud was good, wait ‘til you hear what he does in the opening of Billy Strayhorn’s Take the “A” Train. Here, Fonnesbæk sets up a blistering riff that he is able to transpose and repeat in other keys as the harmony moves around, thus generating a powerful double-time swing that will knock you out. His rhythm almost simulates the rumble of a subway train, and Kauflin is also very good here as well, playing alternately in single-note runs and a series of chords.
Indeed, what I enjoyed most about this CD as the music moved on from track to track was how innovative this duo is with the most “retro” pieces. Although taken as a slow clip, which makes the music swing with a bit more force, their approach to Irving Berlin’s How Deep is the Ocean? is built along the same lines, and in this case neither musician even touches the melody line until about 1:30 into the piece. In an era when far too many jazz musicians slow down older songs to emphasize their “soulfulness” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), Fonnesbæk and Kauflin actually speed things up. I doubt that you’ve ever heard this song played at this tempo before, and it does wonders for it.
The duo does, however, respect the slow tempo that Duke Ellington set for his In a Sentimental Mood, with the bassist playing the opening melody while the pianist trims the gingerbread before moving into the improvisation section. And here, Fonnesbæk gives more ground to Kauflin to work with, and the pianist turns in one of his finest solos. The bassist also solos, and it’s an excellent one, but in this case equal to Kauflin.
And interestingly, they turn Benny Golson’s bop classic Whisper Not into a swing piece, relaxing the tempo somewhat and infusing it with a 1940s rhythm. Very nice! The pianist, appropriately enough, introduces McCoy Tyner’s Inception, with Fonnesbæk jumping in on the second chorus, but once the bass jumps in the piece really takes off. Some of the figures that Fonnesbæk plays during the breaks will absolutely blow your mind.
Monk’s ‘Round Midnight has just the right feel and mood to it, while Nigerian Marketplace is played as a fairly slow piece, with the bassist again getting to state the melody in the beginning. This is also once of those pieces in which the bass and piano get equal time and have complementary and interesting things to say, with Kauflin playing particularly funky piano.
We end with yet another imaginative arrangement, this time of Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me. Kauflin plays the melody in a wistful medium tempo while Fonnesbæk creates a whimsical counter-melody on bass. This duo-improvisation continues throughout the piece, with great effect.
This is a really splendid CD. Well worth checking out!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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