May 22, 2024

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CD review: Brian Bromberg – LaFaro – 2024: Video, CD cover

Bassist Brian Bromberg doesn’t channel Scott LaFaro’s sound on his hat-tip to the bass innovator, who died at age 25 in 1961.

Both players are virtuosi, but LaFaro broke new ground by supplying a contrapuntal voice even while comping; on LaFaro, Bromberg saves his daredevilry for the solos and walks the bass through its accompaniment passages. The tribute comes by way of Bromberg, like LaFaro, being indefatigably himself on the titan’s most familiar repertoire.

“Milestones,” for example, heard on Bill Evans’s Waltz For Debby (Bromberg concentrates on LaFaro’s work in Evans’ trio), finds LaFaro right alongside the pianist and running through a stream of melodic patterns, often in his middle and high registers, capped by a solo that scans like a poetry reading. On the same tune, Bromberg opens with a pretty fill, then backs up pointedly behind pianist Tom Zink. Drummer Charles Ruggiero locks in with him, together delivering an unobtrusive but consistently swinging infrastructure that keeps the bass at the bottom until his middle-register solo (whose cadences are closer to scat singing than poetry).

Don’t be confused into thinking that Bromberg is resolutely a background player. Indeed, he takes the lead on most of the heads — to particularly thrilling effect on “Alice In Wonderland” and “Blue In Green” — and even delivers a pathos-laden solo performance of “Danny Boy.” Even these, though, are remarkably ego-less: They give the performance what it needs. But it says something that on LaFaro’s composition “Gloria’s Step,” he yields center stage to Zink and gives his own solo over to the song’s rhythm. Just as LaFaro served an (influential, but idiosyncratic) vision of his instrument, so does Bromberg on LaFaro. It’s just that his is a “make your case, then support” kind of vision, and he plays it beautifully.

Brian Bromberg’s latest album, LaFaro, is an enjoyable tribute to the legendary jazz bassist Scott LaFaro, whose innovative work with the Bill Evans Trio has left an indelible mark on jazz music. Bromberg, a masterful musician known for his virtuosity on both electric and upright basses, dedicates this album to exploring the acoustic bass in a trio setting that echoes the conversational interplay characteristic of LaFaro’s time with Evans. Accompanied by pianist Tom Zink and drummer Charles Ruggiero, Bromberg ventures into a selection of jazz standards and an original, showcasing his exceptional skills and deep respect for LaFaro’s legacy.

The trio’s performance of “Solar” sets a swinging pace that immediately highlights Bromberg’s melodic sensibility and the trio’s cohesive energy. Zink’s piano playing is elegant and assertive as his solo pushes the beat forward, perfectly complementing Bromberg’s fluid bass lines and Ruggiero’s nuanced grounding drumming. This track is a homage to the jazz greats but also sets a high standard for the trio’s following performances.

“Waltz for Debby” and “Alice in Wonderland” further display the trio’s ability to reinterpret Evans’ material with a fresh perspective. Bromberg’s agile solo on “Waltz for Debby” delves into the modal colors of the piece, while “Alice in Wonderland” showcases the trio’s excellent dynamic control and motivic development, particularly evident in Zink’s thoughtful piano solos and Ruggiero’s expressive brushwork.

“Gloria’s Step” captures the essence of the Bill Evans Trio’s magic, with a performance that balances swinging momentum with lyrical beauty. The trio’s interpretation of “Blue in Green” is an example of this, offering an emotional depth that reflects the strong chemistry among the musicians. Bromberg’s solo here displays his ability to convey complex emotions through his instrument, supported by Ruggiero’s sensitive brushwork and Zink’s solid solos.

The album’s exploration of modal cool jazz is beautifully exemplified in tracks like “Milestones.” “Nardis” seamlessly continues this musical journey, with the trio’s performance echoing the evolved dynamics of the Bill Evans Trio during its later periods, particularly referencing the synergy experienced during the live Paris Concert recordings with bassist Marc Johnson. Bromberg’s bass playing anchors these arrangements with a steadfast foundation and brings a vibrant energy and expressive innovation to his solos. This approach allows for a deepened exploration by Zink and Ruggiero, reflecting a nuanced understanding and appreciation of the genre’s rich history.

“My Foolish Heart” returns to the reflective mood of early Evans-Lafaro collaborations, with each musician contributing to a narrative woven through tones, space, and rhythm. “Scotty’s Song,” the lone original composition, showcases Bromberg’s blues-infused solo bass work before transitioning into a groove reminiscent of Wes Montgomery, highlighting his versatile technique.

The album concludes with “Danny Boy,” a solo performance by Bromberg that demonstrates his mastery of chordal and melodic bass playing. This track is a fitting end to an album that not only pays tribute to a jazz legend but also showcases Bromberg’s own significant contributions to the genre.

LaFaro is a meticulously crafted album that vibrantly resonates with the spirit of Scott LaFaro’s pioneering contributions alongside the Bill Evans Trio, simultaneously showcasing Bromberg’s exceptional talent and profound musicality. Through this heartfelt tribute, Bromberg presents us with eleven gems of well-known jazz compositions, each meticulously interpreted to display the evolution and versatility of acoustic jazz bass playing. This collection pays homage to a jazz legend and highlights Bromberg’s innovative approach to the bass. LaFaro will be available April 5, 2024 via Be Squared Productions.

Scott LaFaro was an extraordinary upright bass player who we lost in 1961 at the age of 25. Even though he was a young bassist he worked with the Bill Evans Trio from 1959 to 1961; he was an exceptional musician and his bass work was lightyears ahead of his time.

Brian Bromberg has teamed up with pianist Tom Zink and drummer Charles Ruggiero to produce a tribute album to this legendary player. We are treated to a dozen tracks (with three bonus tracks on the digital platforms) that were Bill Evans Trio standards. While the original band’s work inspired Brian, this tribute album is not an attempt by the musicians to replicate the music but to organically express themselves on these tunes. When you listen, you may note that it doesn’t sound like LaFaro and it isn’t supposed to.

As I have noted on many of Brian’s previous albums, the bass work (all upright here) is extraordinary and he knows how to get a crystal-clear sound. Every note is pristine and balanced perfectly with the piano and drums. Brian’s approach to recording upright bass should be the golden standard for all upright players. He also handpicked the other members of this trio and they are excellent musicians who really deliver the goods.

LaFaro | Brian Bromberg with Tom Zink & Charles Ruggiero | Brian Bromberg

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