Bassist Anderson captivates listeners with a new recording that finds him in diverse musical settings that range from a bass solo to chord-less quartets and quintets to a bass-harmonium duet as he performs compositions by Keith Jarrett, Billy Joel, Gil Evans, and Morton Feldman. On this recording, he is joined by Billy Drewes, alto sax, soprano, and bass clarinet; Kirk Knuffke, cornet; Matt Wilson, drums; Frank Kimbrough, harmonium; and Rogério Boccato.
While I was not familiar with Anderson before this recording, he has performed with Maria Schneider, Michael Brecker, Frank Kimbrough, Ryan Truesdell, Bob Mintzer, Ira Sullivan, and Red Rodney. It was with the Red Rodney Quartet in 1988 that he participated in the first of over 100 recording sessions for Steeplechase. He has played on recordings by Vic Juris, Harold Danko, Dave Stryker, Paul Bley, Stanley Cowell, Freddie Redd, Louis Smith, and many others. Nils Winther of Steeplechase asked in early 2018 if he would be interested in his own project, and the result is this CD.
The title track opens this disc. Over a prerecorded drone, Anderson plays a melody and then recorded two additional layers of other bass sounds. The other bass solo is an extended examination of the melody of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," where he displays the tone, articulation, and ability to improvise around the theme. There is an Ornette feel to the performances of two Keith Jarrett compositions, "Shades of Jazz," and "Southern Smiles." Knuffke establishes himself with a darting style while Drewes' alto playing has a bluesy spirit, and their interplay is outstanding. Anderson is rock solid while Matt Wilson is perhaps more Billy Higgins than Ed Blackwell, but helps drive and swing these performances.
There is a different feel to the interpretation of Gil Evans "Time of the Barracudas" with the horns riffing in support of Anderson's bass lead with Wilson providing adroit rhythmic accents before Drewes takes a soprano solo. The rendition of the standard "Sweet and Lovely" starts as a duet between Anderson and Wilson (the latter playing almost in a New Orleans groove. Knuffke enters midway, and his playful playing is reminiscent of the late Lester Bowie with a mix of slurs, short bursts, and extended notes. There is a lively, playful performance of "Bradford Marsalis' "The Mighty Sword."
On three selections, Anderson is joined by Kimbrough on the harmonium. The first of the three is the 5th Movement of Morton Feldman's "Rothko Chapel," where, in addition to bass Anderson also plays the Tibetan singing bowl. Drewes soprano sax floats over Kimbrough's harmonium along with Wilson's drums and Boccato's percussion for what is a haunting performance. The same musicians are heard on Jim Pepper's "Witchi-Tai-To." Anderson opens by stating the underlying chord sequence and the melodic phrase. Wilson's cymbal work leads to a transition into Drewes' soprano sax taking the lead over the accompaniment centered around the leader's bass. Kimbrough's harmonium lends a rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" a feel of an Irish folk song before turning into a captivating duet with Anderson's bass which 'sings' this classic country song.
"Deepscape" is a splendid recording with an intriguing mix of material and musical settings, as well as the superb performances by Anderson and his compatriots.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386), although I made minor stylistic changes. Here is Jay Anderson performing in 2012.