By Chris Jisi
Photo by Andy Keilen
Talk about a bass blowout. I had the chance to catch a rehearsal and both nights of Anthony Jackson’s U.S. solo debut on April 14th & 17th, at 55 Bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The shows marked the first U.S. visit for Jackson’s collaborator, Greek bassist/composer Yiorgos Fakanas, as the pair were promoting their recent CD, Interspirit. The international septet was comprised of Jackson (on his signature 6-string Fodera Contrabass), Fakanas (on his Fodera Emperor II 4-string), drummer Cliff Almond (Michel Camilo, Wayne Krantz), tenor saxophonist Bobby Franceschini (Mike Stern, Yellowjackets), and from Greece, alto saxophonist Takas Paterelis, trombonist Antonis Andreiu, and Dimitris Sevdalis on Rhodes. Trumpet great Lew Soloff joined in on the second night. A line rife with bassists extended outside on opening night and we would soon be holding onto our seats from the sheer intensity and instant chemistry of this unit, after just two rehearsals.
The ensemble played some of the more full-on fusion tracks from Interspirit, including, “Inner Power,” “Parhelia,” “Seviglia,” their cover of “Footprints,” the title track, and some earlier Fakanas pieces. Viewed in person, the depth and dimension of Yiorgos’s polyphonic writing came alive, as did the pride and passion of each player’s performance. As with any first-rate jazz show, the composition portion is but half the story, and while I would give it an “A,” the improvised support and solos from this crew was the real eye-opener. Free to roam over modal or two-chord-vamp solo sections, the limber lineup hit one home run after the other. Franceschini and Paterelis are two of the most original sax voices around, each working their way to places related to the harmony only in other-wordly terms. Andreiu is a fiery trombone virtuoso in the mountain-top range of young lions like Elliot Mason. Sevdalis has salsa in his blood, making for rhythmic as well as harmonic highpoints in his excursions. Almond, who in this setting was the unsung hero, holding it all together all night, made the most of his drum breaks in “Parahelia,” creatively challenging both band and audience counting through his flourishes.
For bottom fans, the real revelation came from the 10 strings at the back of the bandstand. Fakanas—composer, bandleader, music school and record label owner aside—is a sheer terror on bass. His solos come in waves of bop-informed 16th-note ideas, and the ebbs are as interesting as the flows. He brings that same spirit to accompanying, pushing the soloists with energy and fearless harmonic invention. As for Jackson, he remains the most exciting supporting musician behind song or soloist alive. If you get a thrill from what Anthony does on record, live, in this custom setting, it was near nirvana: spontaneous reharmonization and rhythmic derivation to the max, seamless and instant transistions from pick-and-flange to palm-muted thumb plucks, unshakable time, fat pocket, priceless facial expressions—all delivered with chest-thumping lows from his Meyer Sound cabs. Jackson also issued a radical, range-defying open solo to start “Seviglia,” consisting of fingerstyle-plucked, upper-register chords with moving inner-voices, as well as thunderous low As via the hipshot on his B string.
Especially enjoyable throughout was Jackson and Fakanas alternating their accompaniment (if AJ backed the tenor solo, Yiorgos would take over for the bone solo, etc.), making for an interesting sonic and conceptual contrast. This led to my personal favorite moment (and I forget the song) when at one point, everyone else dropped out and the two bassists comped together to the head-shaking delight of the crowd. At the end of the final night came exhausted smiles and congratulations all around, followed by the reality that each musician was headed for a separate gig or tour. Here’s hoping an SMV-type buzz circulates and this dual-bass-led collective can reunite and return for more U.S. dates.