Fifteen bass albums

15 bass albums

There is an old, familiar list that is once again making the rounds on Facebook. People are encouraged to “not take too long to think about it” and then list fifteen albums that always stick with them. Then they are supposed to tag a bunch of friends who in turn do the same thing. I am complete sucker for these sorts of things but always hate tagging people on Facebook. So I have compiled my list here on my blog.

Narrowing things down to fifteen albums is ridiculous. I’ve already thought of 15 other albums I should have listed instead of these. However, we will go with this list for now. proved to be well nigh impossible. The following is my list of fifteen basspirational albums that always stick with me.

Album: Why Not? by Michel Camilo
Bassist: Anthony Jackson
Why on this list: Anthony Jackson’s playing has graced so many classic albums as a side man. Elegant Gypsy by Al Di Meola, Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, Steely Dan’s Gaucho, and Chaka Khan’s What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me? to name a few. Jackson’s playing always seems to rise to new levels alongside a great pianist. Such is the case here on this 1985 album by pianist Michel Camilo. Jackson is paired with drummer Dave Weckl and together they drive the music to dizzying heights. Jackson is directly out front in the mix and the whole album serves as a masterclass in how to deploy the 6-string bass in a jazz context.


Album: So by Peter Gabriel
Bassist: Tony Levin (and Larry Klien on possibly two tracks)
Reason why: This is the album that catapulted former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel to international superstardom. The album has held up beautifully over the years and it offers so many transcendent bass moments, most of which are provided by Tony Levin. The bass lines on the songs “Sledgehammer” and “Don’t Give Up” are worthy of study by all bass players.


Album: Close to the Edge by Yes
Bassist: Chris Squire
Reason why: Most of the folks that I know prefer Fragile over Close to the Edge. To me, Fragile feels like a good amount of delicious meat (the full band songs, Mood for a Day) with a fair amount of gristle (the rest of the “solo” tracks). Close to the Edge is all meat and no gristle. And right at the center of that meatiness on Close to the Edge is Chris Squire’s bass. I wish I could settle on one song or moment as my favorite but, good grief, it’s all pretty amazing.


Album: Love Life by Charlie Peacock
Bassist: Tommy Sims (Peacock plays some synth bass on the album, as well)
Reason why: The current generation probably knows of Charlie Peacock only as the producer of the band The Civil Wars. However, not too long ago, Peacock was the darling of the contemporary Christian music scene and practically invented the “Charlie Peacock sound” for artists such as Out of the Grey, Margaret Becker, Twila Paris, Cheri Keaggy, and Switchfoot. That sound reached its pinnacle on this 1991 album and bassist Tommy Sims was a huge contributor to that sound. Sims plays with furious abandon on songs like “What’s It Like in Your World,” “Forgiveness,” and “Kiss Me Like a Woman.” Also noteworthy is Peacock’s hip synth bass work on songs like “In the Light” and “I Would Go Crazy.”


Album: Tribal Tech by Scott Henderson and Gary Willis
Bassist: Gary Willis
Reason why: Gary Willis has had so many great moments with Tribal Tech that choosing one album as a “favorite” is really difficult. The production on the 1992 album Illicit is a bit more aggressive and less dated, but I’m giving the nod to the 1991 self-titled album based on Willis’ playing on two songs — “Dense Dance” and “Got Tuh B.”


Album: The Seventh One by Toto
Bassist: Mike Porcaro
Reason why: David Hungate’s bass work on the first four Toto albums was exactly what was needed as the band mined the “Boz Scaggs meets jazz-fusion” vibe again and again. After the band’s Grammy-winning fourth album, Toto parted ways with singer Bobby Kimball and Hungate stepped aside to focus on his career as a session musician. In stepped the third Porcaro brother (Mike) to take Hungate’s place. Porcaro broadened the band’s palate, frequently employing fretless basses and the 5-string bass. His finest work appears on the 1988 album The Seventh One. The groove with brother Jeff on the tune “These Chains” is pure Porcaro magic.


Album: Signals by Rush
Bassist: Geddy Lee
Reason why: Although Moving Pictures or Permanent Waves get most of the love, my favorite Rush album from a bass playing standpoint is Signals. Signals would be the last album for a while to feature only Fender and Rickenbacker basses and, with guitarist Alex Lifeson’s playing heading in the direction of textures instead of riffs, Lee’s bass playing moved front and center. Cue up the song “Digital Man” for a great example.


Album: Nathan East
Bassist: Nathan East (duh!)
Reason why: Nathan East built quite a career out of being a first-call session bassist in the Los Angeles session scene as well as the bassist in Eric Clapton’s band. Then in 2014 he released his first solo album. The album is gloriously eclectic and features notable contributions from Clapton, Sara Bareilles, Michael McDonald, and Stevie Wonder. East’s arrangement of Wonder’s “Sir Duke” is a rip-roaring tour de force.


Album: Blue Matter by John Scofield
Bassist: Gary Grainger
Reason why: Looking back, John Scofield is one of the big winners from the the second-wave of jazz-rock fusion artists. He worked closely alongside the father of the genre, Miles Davis. He went on to forge a highly varied and successful solo career. And, for a brief period of time (1986-87) he caught lightning in a bottle and fronted the 1980s fusion super group alongside the most explosive rhythm section in the annals of fusion in drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Gary Grainger. I was able to catch this group live at the Wichita Jazz Festival in 1987 and was as blown away by the power and precision happening onstage. It has always baffled me why Sco disbanded this band after only two albums.


Album: Thonk by Michael Manring
Bassist: Michael Manring
Reason why: Michael Manring began his recording career as something of the “house bassist on call” for the “new age” Windham Hill label. His elegant playing graced albums by such luminaries as Micahel Hedges, Turtle Island String Quartet, John Gorka, and the band Montreux. Manring released Thonk on Windham Hill subsidiary label High Street. With contributions from Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick, Primus drummer Tim Alexander, and guitarist Steve Morse, Thonk is as un-Windham Hill as it gets. The album opens with the sound of Manring’s Zon Hyperbass feeding back through a wide-open Marshall stack and proceeds from there. The highlight of the album for me is the final track, “The Enormous Room.” This is the perfect marriage of the Manring the restless technical seeker to Manring the innovative composer. Watch the video below to see what I mean.


Album: PSP
Bassist: Pino Palladino
Reason why: I have blogged elsewhere about my deep admiration for the playing of Pino Palladino. His fretless work was an integral part of the sound of pop music from the 1980s (especially British pop). His fretted Precision bass sound has become a defining part of wide array of artists such as D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Leela James, Amos Lee, Nine Inch Nails, and the John Mayer Trio.  This particular album is noteworthy in that Palladino (playing fretless and fretted) is featured in an all-instrumental setting with keyboardist Philippe Saisse and drummer Simon Phillips. It is an album that is difficult to locate, but well worth seeking out.


Album: Renaissance by Marcus Miller
Bassist: Marcus Miller
Reason why: Marcus Miller has worn so many hats in his career. He has been a heralded session musician, a member of the Saturday Night Live house band, a high-profile sideman for Miles Davis, a film score composer, and an in-demand producer. It is difficult to believe that his solo recording career didn’t really begin in earnest until 1993 with the release of The Sun Don’t Lie. Since the release of that album, Miller’s solo discography has grown quite extensive. Renaissance is a 2012 release and is my favorite of his solo releases so far.

Unlike his other recordings, Renaissance features Miller in a band setting surrounded by a number of young lion sidemen who are eager to push their employer to ever-higher levels. The album is more sparse than Miller’s previous solo recordings and relies much less on gimmicky collaborations with soul singers. The instrumental abilities of Miller and his band are at the forefront of this marvelous album.


Album: This is a Recording by Flim & the BB’s
Bassist: Jimmy Johnson
Reason why: The Minneapolis-based band Flim & the BB’s never received the recognition they so richly deserved. They recorded five studio albums and a “best of” for Digital Music Products (DMP), a teeny all-digital audiophile record label. The band jumped ship to Warner Bros. and released two discs for them in the early 1990s before calling it a day. The 1992 release This is a Recording is the band’s swan song and features all of the things one might expect from a Flim & the BB’s album: surprising compositions with more than a bit of humor, gloriously clear sonics, and the peerless bass playing of Jimmy Johnson. I have already blogged about my deep love of Johnson’s playing. He has probably influenced and shaped my own bass playing more than any other player.


Album: Heavy Weather by Weather Report
Bassist: Jaco Pastorius
Reason why: So much ink has been spilled about the bass playing of Jaco Pastorius and this album in particular that it is difficult to know what to say. I have blogged previously about my love for Pastorius so anything I might say here would be a repeat of my thoughts there. If you consider yourself a jazz fan and do not own a copy of Heavy Weather, then shame on you.


Album: 2nd Phase by Tristan
Bassist: Frans Vollinck
Reason why: This is the newest album on my list, released as it was in the early months of 2015. Tristan is a band of talented musicians hailing from the UK. If you are familiar with bands such as Jamiroquai, Tower of Power, Snarky Puppy, Incognito, or Brand New Heavies then you have a good idea as to the Tristan sound. The band is anchored by drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen and bassist Frans Vollinck. Vollinck is given ample space to roam all through Tristan’s music and he fills every inch of it with supple tone and a fingerstyle funk attack that is highly reminiscent of Francis Rocco Prestia’s best work with Tower of Power. If you are a fan of 70s-style funk, neo-soul, or acid jazz, Tristan is keeping all of those flames alive in a big way.