by Rob Lester
DAVID FINCK [BASSIST]
Burton Avenue Music
CD and digital
There are hot instrumentals and sweetly mellow ones, plus some splendid work by guest vocalists adding words to paint moods. It seems like—I mean, sounds like—almost everything bass player/bandleader David FInck touches turns to glimmering gold, old or newish, on his latest release, BASSic Instinct. Who would predict that the quaint “Tea for Two,” that can-be-ditzy ditty from the musical No, No, Nanette could sound modern and, yes, hip, even though it will mark its 100th anniversary in just a couple of years? And then there’s the Brazilian import “Tico-Tico no fubá” that’s even more ancient but still percolating like mad when Mr. Finck and friends turn up the heat.
A comfort level with all kinds of music is nothing new for David Finck, whose impressive resumé includes a bevy of recordings and many starry gigs, such as collaborations with André Previn, Dizzy Gillespie, and working behind singers like Rosemary Clooney, George Michael, Linda Eder, and Tony Bennett (including that singer’s recent 95th birthday duo appearance with Lady Gaga). In this new release, the parade of music keeps shifting gears. No two tracks are cut from the same cloth, the songs of ever-changing styles are presented with band sizes that range from duo to septet, with the vocal tracks spaced cannily for variety and separate attention if one listens in the designed sequence.
Bookending the set are strong spotlights on Finck as composer—a band piece starts off the festivities and a velvet vocal caps it. The opener is BASSic Instinct‘s amiably energetic title number. And we end with the climbing melody of “I Remember” enhanced by pianist Tedd Firth as the only other instrumentalist, and Jack Murphy’s lyric sensitively and fully inhabited by Melissa Errico’s exquisite vocal. This composition is new to my ears, but some research reveals that it was submitted to the multi-genre songwriting competition named in honor of John Lennon back in 2005 and was a finalist. Another Finck melody that gets a double-barrelled treatment with two singers and being sung in two languages (English and Portuguese) is “Bateu, Levou” (“Who’s Wrong or Right?”), a lighthearted response to a little lovers’ quarrel breezily adjudicated by Teka Penteriche and current Manhattan Transfer member Trist Curless.
While one or two selections don’t quite knock me out, those that do more than compensate, and a couple of those are the quiet respites. One is a meditative “Seascape,” Johnny Mandel’s graceful melody, and then a rhapsodic experience via the elegantly bowing bass and sensitive piano work by Quinn Johnson that combine gentle forces for an emotionally effective “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” from the score of The Fantasticks. I definitely wish there were more use of the bow to embrace legato lines in melodies this time around, but snappier rhythms are more the menu choices, and the veteran bassist can certainly make us appreciate a composer’s work through super-nimble plucking, too. We get an especially notable opportunity to witness that skill with the jaunty and joyful journey through the architecture of “The Best Thing for You,” spot-on in capturing Irving Berlin’s buoyant burst of confidence from Call Me Madam. Another instrumental wins the prize for invigorating, inventive refurbishing when approaching a formerly formal movie song. It’s “Dearly Beloved” from You Were Never Lovelier, and it was never livelier. The players take good advantage of the freedom of having the originally stately and ever-so-polite piece not tethered to its unheard lyric that grandly idealized the object of affection. It’s reborn as a sizzling salsa-flavored upbeat number, working surprisingly well.
If you tend to think of bass players as mostly people who just serve to keep the needed pulse in the background, dutifully plunking away, you haven’t heard what an imaginative one can do when given the spotlight. David Finck is a leader leading the way.