Best of 2014 – The bass, errr, the music

After putting up “best of 2014” lists for books and beer I wanted to keep the alliteration going with “bass.” But really that little piece of tomfoolery is apropos. As I mentioned in a blog post from earlier, this past year will be remembered as the year I came back for good to being a bassist. That switch created a sea change in my listening habits. I found myself going back to my favorite pop-rock bassists of the 1980s (Tony Levin, Mark King, Pino Palladino), making new discoveries from the 1990s (in particular Stuard Zender’s disco-on-steroids bass work with Jamiroquai), and revisiting many great bass lines that I have loved throughout the years. It was great fun falling in love with the instrument all over again.

What follows are (in order) my favorite 10 music acquisitions of 2014. This means is that of all of the music I acquired this past year, these are the cream of the crop. Note that the some of this music was released way before 2014. In this case, for whatever reason, I acquired the music in 2014.

10. The Yes Album – Yes
I’ve owned the Rhino remaster of The Yes Album for a long time. What I purchased this year was the Steven Wilson remix on Blu-Ray. Wow! So much clarity, so many new details. It was like hearing the album for the first time.

9. English Electric: Full Power – Big Big Train
If you are already a prog rock and/or Big Big Train fan, then you already know about the greatness of this album. If not, it is difficult to describe to folks the power and extraordinary depth of this band’s music. English Electric: Full Power is a double album about the past glories of England, the love of overcoming challenges, the inevitability of change, fathers passing on traditions to their sons, and so much more. It is a progressive rock album that ranks up there with Yes’ Close to the Edge, King Crimson’s debut album, Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound, and Rush’s 2112. Yes, it is that good.

8. Tutu – Miles Davis
Up until 2014 I had never owned Miles’ Tutu in any format. It is one of those albums I kept meaning to purchase, but never did. Tutu is an album that I checked out from my local public library constantly. Their copy was on vinyl and it logged a ton of time on my turntable. The album is not only essential for the Miles fan but also for the fan of bassist Marcus Miller, who produced the album and plays many of the instruments.

7. A Physical Presence – Level 42
The mid-80s albums from Level 42 are frustrating in that most of Mark King’s bass lines are doubled by a synth or a keyboard. On this 1985 album, King’s bass is untethered from the synths and set free to fly. And fly it does. This album catches the band at the peak of their powers just before things blew up for them with the release of World MachineA Physical Presence is one of my favorite live albums by any band.

6. Joy Luck – Peter Erskine New Trio
Drummer Peter Erskine has recorded many albums over the past few years in a trio setting of drums, piano, and bass. His early efforts in this style featured Alan Pasqua and the late Dave Carpenter on upright. Erskine has since recorded with other pianists and bassists. This recording features Erskine’s nephew Damian Erskine on electric bass and the whole thing smolders from start to finish.

5. Alive – Hiromi
Pianist Hiromi has recorded several albums with the rhythm section of drummer Simon Phillips and bassist Anthony Jackson. Alive features some of her best compositions and some amazing production that makes it feel as if the band is playing right in your living room.

4. Radio Music Society – Esperanza Spalding
I’ve known about Spalding’s music ever since her successes at the 2011 Grammy Awards. She has always recorded with her trusty upright bass in hand. With this album she ditched the upright for a Fender custom shop reliced Jaco Pastorius fretless Jazz Bass. This switch takes her music into new and exciting areas and made me a true blue fan.

3. John D’Ercole – s/t
A testament to the power of social media and YouTube. I heard about New York classical electric bassist John D’Ercole through the Fodera basses Facebook page (D’Ercole plays Fodera instruments). From there, I located him on Instagram and was then led to his videos on YouTube. Captivated by his sound and approach, I downloaded his album from iTunes. His playing is delightful and the sound of the six-string bass playing it gives the music a deeply sonorous timbre.

2. Nathan East – s/t
The man who has played on everyone else’s album finally released his debut solo recording in 2014. And it is a doozy. From the twisting arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” to the gentle reading of Pat Metheny’s “Letter from Home,” to his nod to Daft Punk with the song “Daft Funk,” this is a bass-centric album that even non-bassists can love. What took you so long, Mr. East?

1. We Like It Here – Snarky Puppy
Snarky Puppy exploded onto my radar in 2014. This is the album that proves that the intersection between jazz and rock still has much to say and deliver after all these years. The compositions are top-notch, the playing is insanely great, and the production is crystal clear. Led by bassist Michael League, the band is gearing up to release a new album in 2015. Here to many more years of Puppy music.

Some runners-up:

Land of the Midnight Sun – Al Di Meola
Cool Grooves – Kirwan Bell
Harlequin – Dave Grusin & Lee Ritenour
V – Spock’s Beard
ABC – The Jackson 5
Why Not? – Michel Camilo

Double Vision – Bob James & David Sanborn

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