Line Up Reviews
All About Jazz
By Chris May (Published: April 05, 2008)
Modern bass playing, and the special relationship in jazz between bass and piano, could be said to have begun in the early 1940s, with the partnership of pianist Duke Ellington and bassist Jimmy Blanton.
In a series of duo recordings as impactful, among musicians, as saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's couplings a few years later, Blanton took his instrument beyond its role as a more or less lumpen metronomic device and, in intimate relationship with Ellington's piano, revealed its potential as a harmonically and rhythmically fully functioning, proactive presence.
Amongst the songs Ellington and Blanton recorded was “Pitter Panther Patter,” Ellington's alliterative sketch of Blanton's feline agility. In a nod to their illustrious godfathers, the tune closes Line Up, longtime playing partners pianist Russ Lossing and bassist John Hebert's debut album as a duo.
Line Up is a mainly improvised, sometimes craggy but more often warm and playful message from the lyrical avant-garde. It's harmonically adventurous, and mostly avoids simple motor rhythms, but is engaging and accessible. And, while light years on from the Ellington/Blanton collaborations, is unmistakably in the tradition.
“Pitter Panther Patter” and Irving Berlin's “All Alone” are the only covers on the disc. Both are deconstructed but not so completely as to abandon the composers' original forms and changes, and “Pitter Panther Patter” ends with a by-the-book rendition of its theme. The remaining tracks are either free improvisations or co-compositions. Hebert contributes three of his own tunes, Lossing one.
Forms and changes figure amongst the originals too. Sketchily, in the free improvisations—most of which begin within a pre-composed rhythm pattern—and more completely in Hebert and Lossing's solo compositions. Hebert's “For A.H.,” a peaceful, very lovely tune written for pianist Andrew Hill (to whom Hebert showed it a few weeks before Hill's death), and “Blind Pig,” a noir-ish, waltz-based piece, are precisely structured. So too is Lossing's perky, boppish title track. “Fais Do-Do” is actually rooted in a Cajun three-step, though the provenance is pretty well disguised.
Piano and bass offer a relatively restricted tonal and textural palette, and it takes outstandingly creative and interactive players to engage interest over an entire album. Lossing and Hebert succeed without a single longueur. You don't even have to meet them halfway. Albums like Line Up make one regret, once again, that so many listeners avoid anything perceived as free improv. It's a broad church, if only more people knew it.
Track listing: Monotype; Fais Do-Do; Blind Pig; Type A; Hitchcock; Line Up; All Alone; Hamburg; Stick The Landing; For A.H.; Type O; Cross Circuits; Whirlygig; Pitter Panther Patter.
Russ Lossing and John Hebert
Most of the tracks on “Line Up” (Hat Hut), a new duet record by the pianist Russ Lossing and the bassist John Hebert, are freely improvised. But that doesn’t mean this music lacks structure or definition. For the most part it sounds abstract but grounded, with each musician creating a foundation in the moment. There’s also a small spate of proper compositions, including the jittery title track, by Mr. Lossing, and a restful elegy by Mr. Hebert called “For A. H.” (That would be the sagacious pianist Andrew Hill, his employer for a spell.) Mr. Hebert will surely sound different at the Jazz Standard on Monday night, when he interacts in a trio with yet another pianist, Benoît Delbecq. Alongside Mr. Lossing, he suggests an intrepid searcher with an end point in mind.
The profound depth of the interactions between pianist Russ Lossing and bassist John Hebert on their new duo recording bears the mark of a shared history and mutual respect and enthusiasm. Hebert and Lossing have both worked with many great artists who have shaped the history of jazz, including Paul Motian, Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and John Abercrombie, as well as many more recent innovators like Mat Maneri, Uri Caine, Fred Hersch, Greg Osby and Mark Dresser. There may be a wealth of experience that informs these duets, but these two have also been working together for many years, having made two wonderful trio discs together prior to this release. The duo setting is something of a rarity and Lossing and Hebert took the opportunity to explore the potential of the unique format.
Line Up is one of the most compelling inquiries into the piano/bass duet context in recent years. In the liner notes, a great deal of attention is paid to what is perhaps the most notable predecessor, the duets between Duke Ellington and bassist Jimmy Blanton, who is widely credited to have introduced the bass as a solo voice in jazz. The long shadow cast by this precedent is felt throughout the record, no matter how far removed the duo's statements may be from that initial inspiration.
The work presented here is often based on spontaneous musical interaction rather than composition, though both artists do present their own pieces here, as well as one each by Irving Berlin and the aforementioned Ellington. In all cases, the freedom and expressionism with which both approach the composed material enables a seamless juxtaposition of the written and improvised works. The music puts abstraction in the fore, with ideas colliding throughout the record. This is a very modernist agenda with the express intention of conveying the artists' very personal relationships with many of their predecessors, while simultaneously offering their own contribution.
Russ Lossing ist auch nach gut 20 Jahren in der New Yorker Szene immer noch ein halber Geheimtipp, einer der Pianisten, die einen evolutionären Weg in die Zukunft weisen. In Columbus, Ohio, wurde Lossing gleichzeitig klassisch und im Jazz geschult und hat auch Erfahrungen mit Rock und Country. Er ist ein typischer Vertreter des Sowohl-als-auch, gibt mit modernen Mainstream-Vertretern wie Dave Liebman oder dem jungen Loren Stillman persönliche Statements ab, ist ein kreativer Partner von freien Improvisatoren wie Mat Maneri und verschmilzt neuerdings auch interessante kompositorische Ideen mit halb offener Improvisation. Auf “Line Up” erscheint alles absorbiert in eine eigene chromatische Ausdrucksweise, die Formen und Harmonien bejaht, nur um sie zu dekonstruieren und umgekehrt die konturlose Freiheit mit wechselnden Strukturen differenziert. Lossing hat mit dem souveränen Bassisten Hebert schon seit Jahren in verschiedenen Bands gearbeitet. Die zwei interagieren ausgezeichnet, gehen entschlossen zur Sache, aber halten sich bemerkenswert kurz. Nicht von ungefähr erinnern die Liner Notes an verschiedene berühmte Partnerschaften der Jazzgeschichte, von Ellington/Blanton bis Monk/Ware und Andrew Hill/Richard Davis. Doch da finden sich nichts Vordergründiges und keine historisierenden Zitate, auch nicht wenn am Schluss Ellingtons “Pitter Panther Patter” kurz die Pranke reckt. js