Next time some non-bass-playing musician makes a joke about us playing nothing but 1-5-1-5 all the time, whip out a copy of Frank Russell’s Covering All Basses as a reminder – or, perhaps, a first-time lesson – in just how versatile the bass can be. Russell’s debut offering provides a mix of standards and originals, highlighting the first-call Chicagoan’s diversity as a bass player. His command of the slapping technique, fretless and acoustic bass guitar is well documented in this collection that includes pop rock, latin, 70s-style funk, straight-ahead swing — even a waltz. After one listen, it becomes clear that Covering All Basses is appropriately titled.
One of the real beauties of this collection is how smoothly it all flows, despite the variety of the selections. Surrounding himself with an “A” band helps Russell add to this consistency. Frank’s long-time associate, guitarist Henry Johnson, plays on most of the tunes, along with keyboardists Bob Long and Mike Logan and drummers Robert Gates and Ernie Adams.
Russell proves skillful at upper-range solos and melodies, as in the CDs opener, “Georgy Porgy” and demonstrates strong fretless ability on Chick Corea’s “500 Miles High” and the classic jazz standard, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” is one of several smooth-sounding quartet pieces on the disk, comprised of piano, guitar, bass and drums. “Ladysmith Parade” is a short interlude tribute to the South African singing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with whom Frank performed for six years.
Russell provides two original compositions on the album. The first is “Future Excursions,” which he co-wrote with Johnson, and features Frank’s lead and fretless bass playing. The second is “Pretty As A Roz,” an easy groove, beautifully rendered with Frank’s lead bass melodies and solos.
A sequence of jazz standards follows, beginning with “Poinciana,” featuring Johnson’s exquisite guitar and Logan’s lush string accompaniment. The Miles Davis/Victor Feldman classic “Seven Steps to Heaven,” featuring Ari Brown on saxophone and Ken Chaney on piano, is a straight-ahead, hard-swinging arrangement, with Frank laying it down on acoustic bass guitar and Greg Rockingham on the drums. The same band plays on “Prince” (sans Brown) and the Benny Golson classic, “Whisper Not.” The Antonio Carlos Jobim standard, “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” showcases Frank’s lead and acoustic bass guitar, once again accented by Mike Logan’s strings, as well as Ernie Adams’ percussion.
The album concludes with Herbie Hancock’s “Sly,” from his ’70s funk Headhunters LP, featuring both fretless and an extended slap bass solo, along with the signature 1970s Fender Rhodes, supplied by Bob Long. This tune, which also includes a beautiful guitar solo from Johnson, truly captures the essence of the genre and makes for a strong closer.
Covering All Basses is not only educational for bass players who want to hear the “right” way to groove in every style, but it’s an enjoyable recording with great tunes and great playing. Give it a try!
Review by Jon Liebman