Okay, this has been long overdue, but I’ve got an album review here that’s actually a two-for-one deal. The creative mind of the man who puts the music together struck me twice with two separate albums, so I decided I had to give them both a run up the flagpole.
That man is Jason Raso, a Canadian bassist who is responsible for some of the most innovative, funky, jazzy, soulful music around.
Jason Raso has a funk heart and a jazz head. They are hard wired together by the 4 strings of his bass guitar, and an innate ability to craft music that will turn you into a bobble head. It’ll make you feel like you’re the coolest cat on the block.
For over 20 years Raso has pursued the groove to such excellence that Exclaim Magazine declares, “Jason Raso’s bass is a full-on orchestra of ground vibrating pleasure.”
Through his first 5 albums and countless live performances, from intimate settings to festival stages, Jason and his band have entertained and connected with listeners. His ability as a band leader allows for some inspired improvisation that takes you on a journey then brings you back, spent, but unharmed. You could focus on his finely honed technique, but it’s the energy and emotion of the tunes that often leads to finger snapping and vigorous toe tapping.
In 2011, Jason released album number 6, The Red Arrow, a debut with Summit Records. His creative energy expanded to include another layer of composition that explores his jazz sensibilities. If that weren’t enough, he doubles on electric guitar, as well as the acoustic double bass, demonstrating his skill as a musician and love for jazz guitar. In an interview with !Earshot, Jason says, “I still want a groove, and hope that those two sides continue to blend.”
2013 saw the release of "Slingshot" featuring his Quartet. Brent Rowan on saxophone, Adam Bowman on drums, and Thomas Hammerton on keys. "Bassist/guitarist doubler composer Jason Raso is back with a grooving, swinging, bumping outing with his quartet" - Bass Frontiers
This recording artist, composer, producer and guitar teacher has a long list of accomplishments that just keep growing. He’s a Hartke Canadian Artist Search Winner (2010), has composed and performed music for syndicated radio, is a session player with a capacity for various styles and production and has numerous television and radio performances under his belt.
Above all Jason Raso continues to grow as a musician and composer. His talent and originality are expressed by ongoing mastery of his instruments, and an appetite for musical knowledge.
I picked two of his works: one is a solo venture, “Detour,” and the other is an outing by The Jason Raso Quartet. It’s a delicious collection entitled “Slingshot.”
Let’s start with DETOUR, released in 2006. This is a twelve track adventure with full focus on Raso’s skill with the bass. He plucks, taps, slaps, and lets the harmonics ring out in sky-bound cries that will give you shivers.
The album consists of a few different genres: Jazz, Funk, R&B, and yes, even a little Rap. I wasn’t ready for that, but after listening to “I’ll Make It,” the one rappish tune, I was smiling, so the bass must have won me over.
The opening tune, “The Bass Tones of Thrashing Prey,” is a thundering funk number with an unbelievable fretless solo. First sound out of the gate and you know you’re in for a real bass adventure. It’s a fast and to-the-point delivery, and when it ends, you say to yourself, Well, alright then. Let’s DO this!”
Second up is “Michelino,” which features a growling sax and a really brassy tone to the entire piece. Be prepared for some jaw-dropping bass work in the middle of the song. Michelino feels like a “song of the night.” Walking the street with style. The sax/bass combo throughout the album is a wonderful sound; it gives an almost “Big Band” feel to the project.
Next is an unusual number called “Adrian of Arabia” and features Arabic-style cries and licks. A trek through the desert in a caravan equipped with backup musicians and a serious bassist. Great ending, drifting away into the distance. The temperature actually feels hot when this one plays. As it should.
If you know my reviews, you know I usually find one or two numbers in an album that I declare as my faves, and on DETOUR, one of these has gotta be the fourth tune, called “Glass Case of Emotion.” You have to listen to this one several times to appreciate the complexity hidden within the simple melody. One of the most beautiful, emotional tracks on the album; Raso serves up some serious taps and bass harmonics. The sax works right alongside, keeping up note for note with Raso’s fingers. Amazing.
Here’s Glass Case featuring Jason Raso on bass.
After Glass Case, we move on to part one of a tasty R&B coupling. “Mo' Minor Blues - Part One” features more of that bass-and-sax thang. It’s a real pocket of emotion. Part Two occurs later on in the mix.
Sixth up is “Kind of Blue Note,” a spiffy lick with a walking bassline that holds it all together. The powerful, driving beat makes this one a valuable addition to the line-up. At just over five and a half minutes, there’s plenty of time to let the rhythm fill your soul.
Next comes our rappish tune, “I'll Make It.” This one kinda threw me for a loop; it doesn’t really classify as full blown Rap - it’s actually Funk for the most part - but it has some rapping in the middle. The story is of someone trying to get through rough times. It’s a very “urban” number. When the rapping part started, I admit I took a step out of the moment, but when the tune was done and I was nodding in approval, I said, “Okay. She fits just nicely.” The song is interesting, funky, melodic, and the message is easy to understand and follow. I think it’s the bass that brought me back. (Pretty sure, heh, heh)
“Bonnie & Stella” is a fretless gem, smooth and jazzy, with some synth keyboard effects and more of Raso’s bass magic! The man knows his instrument. Wow!
Number Nine is called “Wednesday Afternoon.” This is another one of those beautiful, slower melodies that highlights Raso’s understanding of the range of the bass. Songs like this are all about drawing something out of the listener. Something from your past. Something you relive on that Wednesday afternoon. This one vies for top spot with “Glass Case Of Emotion.”
Following this peaceful tune is “Mo' Minor Blues - Part Two,” and it’s a bass lover’s delight. Once again, Raso is in command of every note he creates. If the note rattles when he slaps it, it’s exactly what needs to happen. The middle fills out with sax and a running bassline that sounds like it should be coming from an Upright.
Okay, I have to turn a corner (take a Detour, if you will) and head down a different path when it comes to talking about the next tune, a highly original piece called “Jazz Noir - Episode One.” First of all, I don’t know if there is an Episode Two, so let’s just deal with what we’ve got. It’s a spoken piece, kind of a 40s style radio program set to music. At almost seven minutes long, it tells the story of a boozing Private Eye who meets with a sultry client who thinks her husband is cheating on her. As the PI investigates, he finds something he doesn’t expect (but which serves to his advantage) from the no-goodnick of a husband. A very unusual number, to be sure. I liked it!
The collection finishes up with “May,” another gorgeous bass treat. Between this tune, “Wednesday Afternoon,” and “Glass Case Of Emotion,” it’s pretty clear which of Raso’s styles hit the right chord with me.
His playing is heavy and commanding when needed, and subdued and tender when a lighter touch is required. His style is best summed up as "versatile." He can play anything the song requires, and compose whatever the bass can take! As you go through DETOUR, you learn there is nothing the man can’t handle when it comes to the bass. In the end, though, it’s only partly about skill; the songs have to work, too. And on DETOUR, everything works.
Now, here’s a nice gift from Jason; if you go to his website, scroll to the bottom of the page and join his mailing list. Your reward will be a free downloaded copy of DETOUR for your listening pleasure. If you don’t want to join the list, I encourage you to go to his Download Store and buy yourself a copy.