Trilogy – Rob Wasserman
Rounder Records 11661-3225-2
Before his performances with DJ Logic, his stint with RatDog and acoustic
performances with Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman was simply known as an
extraordinary bassist. Trilogy offers listeners an opportunity to immerse themselves in his Grammy-winning solo work. The triple-disc set brings together three albums – the aptly titled, Solo, Duets, and Trios – that were released between 1983 and 1994.
Trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Wasserman wasn’t content to merely supply the foundation to a tune. Wasserman wanted to explore new avenues for the bass that involved not only a supporting role but as a lead instrument. (An interview I did with him two years ago intimated a gnawing dissatisfaction with what was required as a member of RatDog. He may have enjoyed the experience but it was clear that his artistic needs weren’t being fulfilled.)
It’s understandable when I listen to the three distinct albums that make
up Trilogy. Solo finds Wasserman alone with his stand up bass, recorded live without overdubs. On paper this creative excursion could possibly be murder to the ears, but through a strong sense of melody and a combination of plucking and bowing the strings, he’s able to produce a mesmerizing experience.
The strength of the release is its simplicity. Clocking in barely over a
half-hour, he makes his compositional points and moves on before anyone can protest that he’s overstayed his welcome. The moods brought together by the 13 numbers are uplifting ("Thirteen") and contemplative ("Sunway" and "Ode to Casals").
On Duets he wanted to open up the proceedings, just a little, by
bringing others into the recording studio. The list of collaborators included Aaron Neville, Rickie Lee Jones, Lou Reed and Stephane Grappelli. Much of the work focussed on the combination of Wasserman’s bass skills as rhythm and melody maker paired with the human voice. While participation was kept to two people, keen use of overdubs were able to create the lush arrangement heard on Neville’s take on "Stardust." Notable exceptions to the rule occurred from Reed who added guitar to the Frank Sinatra classic "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)," and Grappelli who contributed violin during lullaby arrangement of "Over the Rainbow."
What’s most extraordinary here is that these series of duets do not
suffer from the lack of other instruments. Intimacy and ingenuity cause the
material to successfully work out.
The next logical step was Trios. At this point, Wasserman’s
reputation brought out more than a dozen musical heavyweights from the rock, blues and jazz genres including Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Neil Young, Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis, Les Claypool, Willie Dixon and Elvis Costello.
Not surprisingly, the extra personnel on the 14 tracks cause the material
to sound more fleshed out. Still, Wasserman’s contributions remain a major
(and positive) element to the proceedings. He even begins to show an
experimental side that was further developed years later on his masterful and funky Space Island album where, through the use of multi-tracking, he performs three numbers as a bass trio.
While the majority of the tunes here work in their specific format,
several become stand outs — "Fantasy Is Reality/Bells of Madness" which features Brian and daughter Carnie Wilson taking part among the gorgeous Beach Boys-like chord structures, "Zillionaire" which pairs the improvisatory skills of Edie Brickell alongside Jerry Garcia on guitar and piano. "Dustin’ Off the Bass" follows Willie Dixon taking us for a down-and-dirty (and good) time.
The notes that related to each album and, in particular, the ones for
each track of Trios are illuminating. A number such as ‘Easy Answers’ with Bob Weir and Neil Young gets a critical rethink after reading about its transformation from a song idea to recorded moments that just seemed too right not to leave in the final mix.
Packaging his first three albums in this manner makes for a seamless
journey through Wasserman’s talent as musician, songwriter and producer. It’s an enlightening tool for those who aren’t aware of his pre-jamband endeavors.