Dave Bass Quartet – Gone – self-released DBQ410, 69:22 ****:
(Dave Bass – piano, co-producer; Mary Stallings – vocals (tracks 2 & 6); Ernie Watts – tenor saxophone; Babatunde Lea – drums, percussion, co-producer; Gary Brown – acoustic bass; Harold Muniz – conga (track 3))
Some people never get a second chance. Pianist Dave Bass is one of the lucky ones. In the 1970s and early 1980s Bass was part of the San Francisco jazz community, led his own group and played with others such as Bobby McFerrin and Babatunde Lea. But a wrist fracture put his music on hold, so Bass turned to education, eventually earning a law degree and establishing a legal career in 1992.
Bass returned to music five years ago and he’s going ever stronger on his latest effort, Gone, an 11-track, 69-minute collection of post-bop, Latin jazz, nuevo tango and two songs that feature guest vocalist Mary Stallings.
It is hard to believe Bass was gone for so long: his artistry, imagination and technical flair attest he is at the top of his game. On Gone, Bass has a consistently stellar backing band: tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, drummer/percussionist Babatunde Lea, acoustic bassist Gary Brown, the aforementioned Stallings and conga player Harold Muniz is on one tune.Everything except for a soulful strut through Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” was penned by Bass, and his compositions reveal his influences and also prove he can write and arrange in several styles with certainty and assurance.
The quartet commences with upbeat opener “LeGrand,” a traditionally-minded swinger fronted by Watts’ fast-paced sax that is met toe to toe by Bass’ equally impressive piano while Lea and Brown never let up the quickened tempo. “LeGrand” is an effective way to start the program and has a prominent head that other musician’s may find fun to work with. Another affirmative piece is the bubbly “Since I Found You,” a confident romp where Watt enjoys himself and Bass offers a witty improvisation that shines with mirth.
Bass and Watts stand out on every cut, but there are highlights that pop out. One is bluesy, gospel-tinted “Someday” which affords a lot of room for Bass and Watts to duet and showcase their emotive gifts. Watts supplies some of his finest sax aptitude: when he soars into the higher register, listeners will take note. The two also collaborate with sterling results on “Libertango,” which ebbs and rises with story-like flourishes. Bass’s keyboards present a sympathetic counterpoint to Watts’ sax soloing; later Watts steps aside while Bass puts forward a cadenced solo that echoes a vibraphone’s tonality.
Bass continues to confirm his love for Latin American jazz on a pair of memorable tunes. “Mi Guajira” is a bouncy number that includes Muniz on congas. The piece was also recorded by the Afro-Cuban La Descarga! Quartet, which Muniz and Bass both perform in. The album-closing title track is a mid-tempo tango that rivals anything else on Gone and is another vehicle for Watts’ robust saxophone and has a Bass solo that drives headlong from Latin to nearly avant-garde.
Stallings’ contributions are also noteworthy on two cuts with lyrics and music written by Bass. Up first is the slow film-noirish “Surrender,” a simmering tale of yearning and burning romance. The group also gets blues-infused on “I Bet You Wonder,” a last-call invitation for a late-night rendezvous.
3. Mi Guajira
4. Lost Valentine
6. I Bet You Wonder
7. Since I Found You
10. Another Feeling
— Doug Simpson