Jason Raso’s newest album, Man of 40 Faces, is on the market, and if you love the range and the many voices of the bass guitar, you will definitely need to add this one to your collection. Raso is a master at creating mood, meaning, and “I-feel-like-I’m-actually-there” atmosphere. If the song was called Tornado, you’d be battening down the hatches. If it was called Day at the Beach, you’d smell the surf and feel like taking off your shoes to stroll in the warm sand. With Man of 40 Faces, just close your eyes and let Raso open the doors.
When this man puts together a collection, you know he’s cooked up something he hopes will reach more than the ears of the audience. He’s going for the heart and soul as well. And it works. With the exception of the three tracks that feature his guest musicians, Francesco Pinetti, Alain Caron, and Wycliffe Gordon, this is Raso on a solo bass journey; I very much enjoy solo performances because - in addition to the beautiful music itself - they also reveal the musician in intimate detail.
Speaking of the guest musicians, the choice of these three couldn’t be a better match for what Raso is offering. Percussionist Francesco Pinetti adds the woody, rolling tones of the vibraphone to “White Russian Waltz”. The effect his sound adds to the song is marvelous! A perfect choice. “Blues for Rocco” features bassist Alain Caron, and words can’t describe how he weaves the brassy tones of his fretless bass into the music. And speaking of brass, “Stone Cold Liberation” features trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, who lends a provocative high-register tease to Raso’s bass.
The album opens with a four-piece “Suite” of tunes, amusingly named the “Suite Smell of Success.” It includes “Man of 40 Faces,” “Spinning Forth,” “That Tropical Island Mood,” and “Eyes of Broadway”. Hang onto your hats, listeners, because this Suite Smell of Success sets the stage so well, I think it could be expanded into a musical adventure unto itself.
The first part of the Suite, Man of 40 Faces, sets a classical tone with harmonies and blends that introduce us to this real renaissance man. It’s less than a minute and a half in length, but if you close your eyes when it starts, you know right off that someone special has booked the tour, and will be commanding your attention without distraction.
Spinning Forth follows. This is a very warm offering that makes you glad you showed up! If the opening tune was the invitation, Spinning Forth is the promise. Just sit back and let your imagination heat up. Raso gives your ears a pleasant massage with this one. Can’t turn back now!
Now that the old ears are all limbered up, and your breath and heartbeat have slowed into a meditative state, Raso sails us to the islands for That Tropical Island Mood. And he ain’t kidding. Wow. This isn’t exactly a “lying under the palm trees” kind of feel. It may start that way, but as soon as the music takes hold of you, the dream may morph into a vision of yourself being invited to do an island dance with a few locals. Maybe it’s sunset with long shadows. Maybe there’s a breeze off the ocean. Make it yours. Take whatever trip the song makes you feel. I can’t believe how well he gets his bass to sound like hand drums. It adds very percussive undertones to a delicious tropical treat. Piña coladas, anyone?
For the last part of the Suite, Eyes of Broadway, it’s time to head back to the city, where the feeling shifts to a slightly less relaxed, almost melancholy state of affairs. Traffic, people in the streets. Lights and shows. This one, (maybe suggested by the title: OF instead of ON) is Broadway’s opinion of US in its fold. Broadway needs her people as much as the people need her.
All in all, the four part “Suite Smell of Success” is a perfect opening to the album. Sets the pace, brings on the atmosphere. Keep 'em coming!
Number 5 on the album, titled White Russian Waltz, featuring Francesco Pinetti on vibraphone, is a tasty thing unto itself. As the bass goes bob-bob-bobbing along down below, the vibes do this wonderful tap dance in formal top coat and tall hat. Playful and theatrical. Are we still on Broadway?
As I mentioned before, the next tune, Blues for Rocco, with Alain Caron on the fretless, is an amazing taste of two distinctly different basses. Raso runs a blues line, and Caron pokes in here and there with the skill of an expert loom operator. It’s all about teamwork and the co-operative mindset between these two bassists that produce this amazing duet.
Good Night, and Good Luck is a lavish solo number with Raso’s gentle touch showing us just how beautiful the bass can sound when played outside its traditionally accepted role. Simply gorgeous.
The number 8 track is Stone Cold Liberation, with Wycliffe Gordon on the trombone. What’s nice about these guest musician songs is that a person could imagine them all playing together in a combo. With Gordon on trombone, Caron and Raso on bass, and Pinetti on the vibes, this would be an amazing group. Raso’s choice to highlight and feature one guest at a time is not only a clever way to focus on one type of sound (as it mixes with his bass), but also to give the listener a full-bodied experience without having to spread the ear too thinly across the spectrum. We all know I love overlapped and rich instrument mixes, but there are times when just a bass and a friend are more emotionally moving. Stone Cold Liberation is such an experience. It’s funky, with slaps and staccato taps. The trombone chimes in with its sly, cheeky “double dog dare ya” bravado.
Things soften down again for Eye of Reflection. This one’s an inward-looking exploration, best enjoyed alone before inviting someone else in to share it with you. I don’t normally care for string zipping sounds on guitars or basses, but if they are soft and stay low-key, they do add something to my enjoyment of the music. This song’s upper registers sound almost like a Spanish guitar.
Juxtapose is a wild, effects infused funk slap number that gets the groove mood going in a big hurry. The slap is so percussive that it feels (just like in That Tropical Island Mood) as if there are hand drums being played.
The final song, Tragic Figures, is a multi-layered family of bass voices that merge to give us the heaviest of all the tunes in the collection. Listen and enjoy style upon style, then sit back and smile at all the different sounds that can come from this instrument, in the hands of a gifted musician.
My whole experience with this album has been like this: Raso sets down a candle in front of each song, and as I listen and develop a meaning, I light the candle. By the time the album is done, I am alive with the heat and light of the collection. You may think this sounds overblown as a review, but this is how I listen to music. Men like Jason Raso put the whole of themselves into their creations, and I’m one of those who will always jump in with both feet.
Go on now and light your own candles.
Thanks, Jason and crew!
© 2015 CL Seamus for Thunder Row