The double bass is a perennial fixture of many jazz combos. And yet, how rare to hear it on its own terms. Rarer still in duet with a like partner. The Cornell Concert Series kicked off its spring season by proving that a duo of basses could be more than meets the ear. As twin ramparts of their generation, Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer are as masterful as they come. Where one cut his teeth on the jagged edges of jazz, the other was baptized in classical waters.
For the inaugural Cornell Concert Series performance of 2017, Grammy-winning bassists Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer will take to the stage at Bailey Hall on February 3. Although both musicians helm their respective vessels in nominally different streams, together they have created something as fresh as their foundations are solid. Where McBride is something of a musical chameleon, rooted in the backyard of the blues yet stretching his branches over into every willing neighbor’s property, Meyer has turned his classical wheelhouse into a kaleidoscope of interpretive possibilities. I had the opportunity to speak with both bassists — first to Mr. McBride on the phone, followed by Mr. Meyer via e-mail — as an overture to what promises to be an engaging night from this rare combination of instruments. The Sun: One of my all-time favorites from your discography is Live at Tonic.
Kurt Vile is an acoustic guitar-wielding loner on his new album b’lieve i’m goin down; a subdued, confessional and ultimately enjoyable listen. His music cultivates a relaxed and reflective vibe: the stuff of long car trips and late-night conversations; the slow pulse of Vile’s sound evoking the view through a rearview mirror. It sounds like it was recorded in his bedroom
The lyrics read like journal entries. This should be regarded as a strength. b’lieve i’m goin down is about solitude, alienation and introspection: Vile sets the tone on the tightly written opener, “Pretty Pimpin,” when he sings, “I woke up this morning / Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror.” On “I’m An Outlaw,” he aligns himself thematically with country legends like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, singing “I’m an outlaw on the brink of self-implosion” over a banjo groove.
We learned that Alabama Shakes knew how to play Memphis soul and southern blues rock — and play it well — on their 2012 debut, Boys & Girls. We learned frontwoman Brittany Howard had a tour-de-force, hurricane of a voice and we learned that these kids from Nowhere, Alabama had a gritty, aw-shucks charisma and an old-soul-meets-modern-rock sound that earned them gushing accolades and a Grammy in the same year. It was unclear, however, whether the fledgling group would find a coherence beyond the gorgeous shock value of Howard’s shrieks and croons and the novelty of a niche throwback sound in this musical climate. Their latest release, Sound & Color, seems to settle this question; Alabama Shakes are more than niche; they are more than a novelty. The album shimmies between decades and genres, sampling from soul, groove-rock, gospel, blues, punk, electric rock, bluegrass and folk; embracing motifs and honoring the traditions that so evidently inform their sound from each genre, but executing their own creative, and exciting forms of them.