Perhaps the tale of Dave Bass’ extraordinary comeback and second musical act is old hat now for the jazz gurus and enthusiasts hip to the dynamic and eclectic, star studded trio of releases the pianist has released since the late 2000s – starting with 2008’s Gone (which featured Ernie Watts) and continuing on Whaling City Sound with 2015’s NYC Sessions (with Phil Woods, Harvie S. and Karrin Allyson) and 2019’s JazzWeek charting No Boundaries (featuring Allyson and co-producer Ted Nash on all woodwinds).
Yet for those of us who are just getting on board with the stylistically freewheeling Bass experience via his alternately hard swingin’./boppin’.super-percussive and sensually lyrical The Trio, Vol. 1 featuring his new rhythm section of kindred spirits, Kerry Kashiwagi (bass) and Scott Gordon (drums), it’s fresh and exciting intel that speaks to the undying musical component of the human spirit.
Perhaps had he not fractured his wrist in the mid-80’s, all the great jazz that would ultimately be part of Bass’ creative destiny would not have existed. But we would have other music for sure. His career trajectory up to that time included international touring with Brenda Lee, working with a young Bobby McFerrin, backing vocalist Jackie Ryan for years, playing regular salsa gigs in San Francisco and working in various settings at the Royal Lahaina Resort in Maui, where he had moved in the early 80s to continue working with Ryan.
The injury changed everything, and faced with the prospect of never being able to play piano well again, he embarked on a stellar legal career (starting at UCLA School of Law) that culminated in becoming a California Deputy Attorney General working under future Vice President Kamala Harris. Bass returned to recording after playing casually around Sacramento with friends for a few years in the 2000s.
While that personal history is fascinating, as you listen to the new album’s sparkling, hi-octane, twist and turn filled journey from an explosive, frenetic and densely percussive romp through Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco” through the hypnotic, alternately moody and bustling spin on Carla Bley’s irrepressible “Vashkar,” the only impact it may have on you is thinking, “How could there ever have been a time when this guy couldn’t play?” and “Thank heavens he got his mojo back so we could get caught up in this crazy-fun whirlwind.”
There are equal parts whimsy and wonder throughout, ranging from the exotic Latin-tinged bang, boom and roll jam Bass original “Mean Johnny” and the playful bluesy groovin’ of Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” to the lush, seductive new ballad “June,” the punchy, heavily percussified bebopper “Nice Home” and the sweetly melodic but out there avant-gardery of Annette Peacock’s “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway.”
While each of the 12 tracks is a showcase for the trio’s wide ranging palette of joys, the two tracks that, taken in tandem, perhaps most perfectly capture the spirit of fun and camaraderie are two Bach inspired pieces - the classically tinged barnburner “Bud on Bach” (which dates to Bud Powell’s 1957 set The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 3) and Bass’ heavily impressionistic, rhythmically challenging riff on that classic tune titled “Bass on Bach.” It captures Bass’ challenge throughout The Trio, Vol. 1 to create and artfully execute dynamic originals that stack up well against his re-imaginings of works by the masters.
Listen to The Trio, Vol. 1 here: The Trio, Vol. 1 - Album by Dave Bass | Spotify