Make it funky! That’s the first impression you get on “Shango,” the opening track of Gerald Veasley’s new recording, which sets the tone for an enjoyable hour of music that’s a little bit smooth, a little bit funk, and a lot of groove. With a supporting cast that includes saxophonist Chris Farr, drummer Eric Greene, and conguero/percussionist Pablo Batista, Veasley is clearly in the zone.
All but one of the ten songs on At the Jazz Base! are Veasley originals, including two that he co-wrote with members of the band. The second track, “Valdez in the Country,” was penned by Donny Hathaway. Supplemented by Peter Kuzma’s organ play and Farr’s soprano sax, this upbeat selection has the potential to get the listener to applaud along with the audience. Despite a stellar career that has included six studio recordings, Veasley had never done a live album before now. Eight of the songs were recorded at the accomplished bassist’s own club, Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Recorded over the course of two nights, each before an audience of about 150 patrons, this collection has the look and feel of nightclub jazz—lively and intimate.
“Songs evolve over time,” Veasley says. “The songs are different now, and a lot of that is the result of taking them on the road over the years and playing them for people. The energy you get from the audiences allows you to experiment with the songs, and that experimentation leads to new arrangements.”
Whether new or original, these arrangements are classic Veasley. The fourth track, “Sugar Time,” is one of two new songs done in the studio. Steered by Veasley’s deep bass lines, it’s as much blues as it is jazz. In creating—and performing—it, Veasley acknowledges the blues as the “mother” of all American music. Whether it’s jazz or uplifting gospel (and certainly rock, R&B, and hip-hop), most forms of popular music were inspired by the blues. With co-writer Farr on tenor sax, “Sugar Time” rocks and jams as a playful meld of genres.
The funk returns on the easygoing and aptly named “Deeper,” which exhibits a taste of the Parliament/Funkadelic inspiration that helped start Veasley’s career. The song ends with a series of stop/start lines that show the band’s tightness in a live setting. On the blues-filled “Forever,” a nearly nine-minute track that allows plenty of room for stretching out, Kuzma shines with an impressive organ solo. Greene gets his moment—and quite a moment, at that—on the sassy “Bread Puddin’.”
The other studio offering is “Celebrating Sipho,” co-written by Veasley, Farr, and keyboardist Will Brock. A tribute to Sipho Gumede, a South African bassist who died of cancer in 2004, the song is played in a style typical of Cape Town-inspired jazz tunes. It features Farr again on soprano and slick fingering by Veasley—and, fittingly, excellent percussion play by Batista. It’s the perfect closer to an already superb album.
By Woodrow Wilkins Jr.
Technorati tag: Jazz