The title of On the Upside, veteran bassist Dewayne Pate’s first solo album in nearly 15 years, says it all about the silver linings for musicians restricted from their normal bustling workflow during the pandemic lockdown. While he’s performed all over the world poppin’ grooves behind the likes of Arturo Sandoval, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs and Maria Muldaur, the versatile composer musician draws more heavily on the vibe of two of his other employers – Tower of Power and Robben Ford – in creating what amounts to a spirited, alternately sensual, swinging and funked out all-star ensemble date with a dynamic array of jazz stalwarts, many from the Bay Area.
Among the stalwarts are guitarist Ray Obiedo (who adds rhythm guitar to “Iceman”) and Dennis Chambers, who brings his legendary adventurous drumming to the set's two true jazz fusion excursions, the propulsive “Oliver’s Twist” and the offbeat, mood swinging and rhythmically all over the map title track. The TOP influence fires through on the fiery, brassy romp through bluesman Albert Collins’ buoyant “Iceman,” which features Chris Cain’s blistering guitar, a hard punching tenor solo by Norbert Stachel and the soulful, high impact vocals of Tony Lindsay.
Even more prominent is Pate’s multiple references to the Ford/Yellowjackets inspiration, from a fascinatingly reworked, exotic take - including an African styled chant - on “Imperial Strut” (a Russell Ferrante tune from the Jackets’ debut album, which also featured Ford) through onetime Jackets saxophonist Marc Russo explosive improv and Ford’s wailing on the hard swinging Pate original “Blues Ala Monmouth.”
Over the nine tracks of On the Upside, one of the most engaging elements is Pate’s sense of creating a true emotional journey that ebbs and flows between the high octane jams and more sensitive pieces like his lyrical original ballad “Ellen,” a graceful, meditational and bluesy take on “Smile” and an intimate, sparsely arranged (mostly bass and percussion) but also peppy version “People Get Ready,” the latter two featuring the passionate vocals of Amikaeyla Gaston.