Several years ago I wrote a post about bass solos, called 'When Drums Stop, Big Trouble', which referenced a well known joke about bass solos and got into some discussion of bass soloing. I more recently wrote about the electric bass culture of virtuosity that has appeared in more contemporary times. To complete the now stereotype/cliched trilogy, here's a post which just simply celebrates great bass solos. I chose them in no particular order, and there are of course many more, both by the people mentioned here and many other great players.
Because it's a piece about bass solos, I've started some of these tracks at the solos themselves. But I would of course encourage you to listen to the pieces in full.
Eddie Gomez - Autumn Leaves
One of my favourite recorded bass solos. Gomez' style of playing is somewhat out of favour these days (though not with me...) - a lot of high register playing, and a low action. But I love his lyricism and the individuality of his sound - you'd know him anywhere. On this track he displays a ferocity of attack that's not often associated with him, but was a feature of his earlier playing with Evans. This track is a tour de force. Drummer Marty Morell's accompaniment is model of how to accompany a bass solo - intense, swinging, but not too loud.
Renaud Garcia-Fons - Baja De Guía
Renaud Garcia-Fons has created a bass language and sound all his own. Playing a five-string double bass, combining Spanish and Middle-Eastern influences in a very personal way, and applying his ideas to a superhuman technique on the instrument (the intonation!), he really is a one-off. Here he gets into a full blown Buleria for solo bass. Just extraordinary - listen to how he keeps the Buleria clave with his feet.....If you don't know him check out his music - he has some other great videos on Youtube.
Paul Chambers - Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
The difficulty with PC solos is which one to pick... Every solo he played defined bebop bass soloing. The time feel, the lines, the articulation. In my mind he is to bebop bass soloing what Sonny Stitt is to bebop saxophone, representing a kind of perfection that distils all the qualities of the genre into every solo. I could have picked any of the dozens of recorded PC solos and had as good a representation of great jazz bass soloing as is represented by this. One of the all time greats.
Dave Holland - Mr PC
One of my biggest influences and of course one of the greatest living jazz bassists. The list of his achievements in bass playing and music in general is really phenomenal. Among those achievements would be the development of the idea of solo bass performance - both live and on record. I wrote previously about 'Emerald Tears' , the ground breaking solo album he made in 1977 - it demonstrated a whole new concept of the bass as a solo instrument in its own right, one that didn't have to mimic a saxophone in order to have credibility in soloing. This is a live performance of 'Mr. PC' a piece dedicated by Trane to Paul Chambers and here given a classic Dave Holland workout where the whole instrument is used, the time is flawless and technique is pushed to the limit. Another giant.
Anders Jormin is another giant - literally and figuratively. Yet though he's a big man who plays a big instrument, he does it with extraordinary delicacy and finesse. His technique on the instrument is effortless and his playing has such an elegance to it. You can see it here, taken from this wonderful concert in the forest with Bobo Stenson's trio, where from the opening false harmonics to the beautiful chordal passages and deep lyricism, he sets up the following waltz beautifully. And what a sound.....
Michael Pipoquinha - Incompatibilidade De Gênios
If you've read my post about current trends in electric playing you'll know that while I admire the extraordinary technique that's been developed by the younger generation of bassists, I'm often left wishing they'd play some decent music in which that technique is put at the service of the music. The young Brazilian bassist Michael Pipoquinha is someone who does exactly that. A phenomenal technician he also is a great improviser whose playing always reflects joy in every note he plays. I love this video, taken at a soundcheck somewhere, with the great Romero Lubambo, playing a classic Joao Bosco song. Incredible bass playing in every sense.
Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen - Oleo
NHOP redefined what was possible technically on the bass when soloing in the traditional swing idiom. When he developed his right hand, three-finger technique he raised the technical level of upright bass soloing to undreamt of heights. In this video, recorded with Sonny Rollins and Alan Dawson, in 1965, NHOP more than holds his own with these two giants despite being only 19 years of age! He hadn't developed the three-finger technique yet and in a way I prefer this period where his youth and exuberance was allied to an already incredible technique, but not to the point where the technique distracted from the music. Completely burning!
Jaco Pastorius - Havona
There's not much more to say about Jaco that hasn't already be said. In his tragically short career he created a completely new way to play the electric bass and created great music to go with it. 'Havona' is one of the classic tracks where the instrumental playing and the subsequent music are of the highest calibre. It's a track known by pretty much every electric bassist worldwide for the past thirty years. All Jaco's great qualities are here - the sound, the groove and the fluid technique. Allied to these qualities are the lyricism which he so often displayed, (and is often unremarked upon), and his sense of humour. I've always loved the sneaky Stravinsky quote at the beginning of the solo.
Ray Brown - Things Ain't What They Used to be
Like Jaco - there's not much new you can say about Ray Brown at this stage. And when he's playing something like 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be', there really is nothing to say - it's all here in the music - the sound, the swing, the groove, the power......... (I said it anyway!)
Linda May Han Oh - Power Ranger
One of a clutch of great bassists on the contemporary jazz scene, I saw her play live recently for the first time, playing with Pat Metheny, and was blown away by the completeness of her playing. She really is the complete package for a modern jazz bassist and is a particularly strong soloist. What I love about her solo here is the way she deals with rhythmic motifs. The bass in jazz is ultimately a rhythm instrument and to use this aspect of it in soloing should be more common than it is. I really admire the way she takes this element and runs with it to create a really powerful solo. I know, having been lucky enough to have had the experience myself, that Joey Baron is one of the greatest drum accompanists to a bass solo, and you can hear that here too.
Mingus - Tensions
This may seem an odd statement, but I do think that Mingus is underrated as a bassist. His achievements as a composer and his notoriety as a controversialist has I think distracted from his incredible bass playing. I think the album 'Blues and Roots' has an unparalleled collection of great bass solos on it - these are in my opinion not just some of Mingus' finest solos, but some of the finest jazz bass solos ever recorded. Particularly the solo on 'Tensions' which has so many extraordinary features, like the way he pulls the string off the neck in the intro, accompanies his own solo, and finished with that great series of glissandos. Mingus was a bass giant, and let's never forget it!