Sometimes you know if a CD is going to be good even before you cue it up and start listening to it. The first thing I that caught my eye when I opened up Michael Bates' Clockwise CD was the note that it was taped live on a two-track recorder. The second thing I noticed was that the sessions were produced by current creative jazz trumpet heavyweight Dave Douglas.
So far, so good, but I also wondered: just who is this Michael Bates dude?
As it turns out, Bates is not exactly a newcomer; Clockwise, just released, is his third record and he's appeared on more than a dozen others. Hailing from Canada, Bates has developed a reputation in avant garde circles as an advanced bassist and composer. It's been my experience as a listener that good bassists and composers seem to go hand in hand. Charles Mingus set the mold several decades ago. Drew Gress and Anne Mette Iversen are just a couple of recent examples that come to mind.
Now, Bates' bass doesn't quite have the lyrical richness of William Parker (but honestly, who does? That's why Parker is the king). However, it's lyrical enough and he's plenty capable of driving songs as he does so here, clearly standing out as the leader without having to solo. Bates can nimbly play right on the beat or off the beat while still securely setting the melody, even changing it seemingly on a whim and have the whole band follow right along.
The nine tracks on this CD aren't really songs, but musical conversations. Like a dialogue among people, there's changes in tone, cadence and pace, but all done under some overarching theme. There's almost always two or more melodic lines going on in each compositions and there's even a term for that: "contrapuntal."