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Music Review: Dave Bass Quartet – Gone

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“My lawyer plays piano in a jazz quartet.”

Do you like the sound of that? Or, is this better; “That piano player is a lawyer”?

My question is, “When was the last time you heard a tango track on a jazz CD?”

The title track, “Gone” is a smart tango.  It’s also a euphemism for his jazz piano career.  The Cincinnati native was making a living in the San Franciso jazz and Latin music scene in the 70’s and early 80’s.  Then, he was — gone.

A wrist fracture sent him to college that evolved into law school and now he is a California Deputy Attorney General.  Fortunately for jazz lovers, he returned to music in 2005.  He is joined for this project by Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Babatunide Lea on drums, and Gary Brown on acoustic bass.

Image courtesy D.Bass

From the opening bars of the first track, “LeGrand”, the Dave Bass Quartet hooks the listener like a great novelist grabs the reader.  This may be as good a hook as the head from “Take 5”.

“Surrender” follows and features guest vocalist, Mary Stallings, with a  moody and heartfelt delivery of Bass’s tender composition (she manages to slip in some scat).  “Mi Guajira” is a look back at Bass’s Latin music experiences and features Harold Muniz on conga.  Muniz, along with Bass, are part of “La Descarga!“, a quartet that specializes in Afro-Cuban Jazz.

Ernie Watts is the driving force carrying the melody in a duet with Bass as they cover  Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango“, the only track on Gone not written by Bass.  The title of the 1974 composition signals Piazolla’s break (liberation) from classical to nuevo tango.  It also points out the willingness of a contemporary jazz composer to include tango in a jazz format.  Bass work on keyboards provides a complimentary counterpoint to Watts’ sax and you can feel your feet moving as soon as your eyes find a dance partner.

Mary Stallings joins the group for her second number as she carries a torch with “time’s a’wasting…our destination might be the same this very night.” — a jazzy-blues performance of “I Bet You Wonder”.  As Bass says, she “literally breathed life into my lyrics.”  

If Dave Bass writes legal briefs as well as he composes tight jazz, memorable melodies, and the kind of lyrics that evoke a range of emotions, the legal world is in for a fight.  We won’t let him out of the jazz bar to practice before the bar. 

Track seven, “Since I Found You” is an up tempo climax featuring improv opportunities for each of the members of the quartet with a showcase of Bass at the keyboard.  His wrist has obviously healed wonderfully!  Perhaps my favorite track is the next to last, “Another Ending”.  It reminds me of what I’ve always referred to as “cocktail party” music.  A classic jazz combination of piano, saxophone, bass, and drums setting a light, airy mood perfect for relaxing. Remember Dave Grusin’s “Singleman Party Foxtrox” from The Graduate?

And then, with a flourish, they’re “Gone”.

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