Double Bass: Bad Pun, Good Record
Double Bass is a near historic summit of two legendary jazz bassists: Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (b.1946 - d.2005) and Sam Jones (b.1924 - d.1981). Can you guess from their names which is Danish and which is American?
Sam Jones accompanied Kenny Dorham, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson, among others. He remained an in-demand freelance session musician until the end of his life. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen had a parallel career in Europe. He played with Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, Tete Montoliu, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Albert Ayler, Teddy Wilson, Oscar Peterson, Tootie Heath, Joe Pass, and others. You may have gathered, they met through Oscar Peterson.
Obviously, two master musicians sharing the exact same frequency range could make for a difficult recording session. By all accounts, the encounter was an amiable one. The technical trouble of overlapping bass lines was overcome (for the most part) by panning Jones hard-right, Pedersen hard-left, with the guitar and drums centered. With this in mind, you'll enjoy Double Bass most listening on headphones or a system with good stereo separation. If you can swallow the novelty of it, you'll find Double Bass is better than comparable exercises.
Pedersen and Jones generally compliment each other nicely. Since their gunslinger status was well-established, there was no need for shoot-outs. The liner notes insist their point was not to "prove the validity of the acoustic bass" as a solo instrument. Fine, but listeners are left wondering "what exactly was their point, then?" If the point was to showcase virtuosic (but somewhat self-indulgent) instrumental duets, then the project was a success.
Legendary guitarist Philip Catherine may be Belgian, but you'd swear he's Brazilian. His parts are mature and melodic, exactly what was required within this context. Charles Mingus called him "the young Django," and invited him to join his trio with Stephane Grappelli. No jazz guitarist could hope for a higher honor. Though Pedersen and Jones are no longer with us, Catherine is alive and well. He just released the highly-rated Meeting Colours in 2005.
Coltrane's complicated "Giant Steps," Parker's "Au Privave," and Kern's "Yesterdays" are fun comparative studies. Perhaps the greatest highlight is "I Fall In Love Too Easily," the melancholy ballad originally sung by Sinatra in the 1944 film Anchors Aweigh. This cover shares more in common with the 1955 Chet Baker reinvention. Jones' own "Miss Morgan" introduces some unexpected musical twists.
From a certain point of view, Double Bass is a piano-less rhythm section record with a decidedly Latin-jazz flavor, thanks to unique guitar and percussion parts. Who knew a North American and Western Europeans could treat Brazilian standard "Little Train" with such dignity?
Pedersen and Jones shed new light on several standards, but offer little of truly lasting import. Double Bass is a strong song-set, recommended mostly to fans of jazz bass. It's essential listening for Pedersen, Jones, or Catherine collectors. If, for some strange reason, you still need to be convinced the double bass is a solo instrument, Double Bass is the CD for the job. Hey, I didn't start this pun.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.