The double bass made a comparatively late arrival to solo status in jazz; due to its’ unwieldly nature and obstinately low range its use was often restricted to novelty effects and comedy turns a la Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals. Things have come a long way since then, but even a staunchest aficionado might baulk at the prospect of an hour and a half of unaccompanied duets, even from such established masters in their respective fields as Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer. At the very least, one might expect a certain amount of anecdotal raconteurism to leaven the evening’s entertainment, especially as the event was staged in a venue more usually hosting stand-up comedy.
Having none of it, McBride and Meyer confounded expectations by simply walking onstage at the Komedia and starting to play, unamplified. What’s more, Meyer, the known arco (bowing) specialist, played a walking bassline and McBride, the jazz supremo, wielded the bow, stating the bluesy melody of Meyer’s original composition before taking flight on a dazzling improvisation, after which they swapped roles without missing a beat. The contrast between their styles precluded any monotony –each conjured a distinctive tone from their instrument, and the contrast between their solo voices was fascinating.
The set relied chiefly on the Great American Songbook and standard jazz repertoire. ‘My Funny Valentine’ was given a delicate, emotionally resonant rendition; ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ was stately and restrained; an uptempo ‘Solar’ allowed both players to show off their fleet fingers and flexibility; ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ gained new life as a solo feature for the endlessly inventive McBride. His formidable speed and accuracy allowed him to peel off rapid 16th-note runs and double and triple stops, but the tough logic of every phrase meant that this never seemed like empty showboating, and whether playing fluent Parkerisms or basic four-to-the-bar his impeccable timekeeping pocket was evident throughout.
If McBride is a master of the bebop language, Meyer is equally outstanding on the bow; softer in volume but effortlessly fluid in articulation and with intonation a cellist might envy. His solo feature deployed harmonics to range over at least four octaves, and his playing on a Bill Monroe bluegrass was a joyously melodic dance. His idiosyncratically inventive approach to improvising over standard changes was a perfect foil for McBride’s thorough examination of the tradition.
What might still have been a rather dry display of technical virtuosity was turned around from the outset by two factors; the inherent musicality of everything that they played, and the obvious delight that each took in the other’s company. They supported each other’s every move, chucking phrases back and forth, and even laughed out loud as they urged each other to greater heights. McBride was a genially serious, impressively dapper presence; Meyer looked the All-American Boy in chinos and button down collar, running his hand over his crew-cut in a self-deprecating move eerily reminiscent of Stan Laurel. This reviewer counted at least fourteen bassists among the audience - but this event would have appealed to any lover of good music. Let’s hope there’s a return visit.
– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Tim Dickeson