Add Berkeley badass Kai Eckhardt to the list of boundary-busting Bay Area bassists that includes Jack Casady, Larry Graham, Rocco Prestia, Paul Jackson, and Michael Manring. On his soaring sophomore solo CD (his first in 13 years), Kai channels the Eastern-undertoned insight gained as a sideman with John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Trilok Gurtu, and his co-billed role as a member of Garaj Mahal into a far-reaching but focused musical statement, further sharpened by his super-tight quartet (Osam Ezzeldin on keys, drummer Dana Hawkins, and guitarist Chris Paul Robinson). Opening with a flurry of harmonics and an R&B-rooted, odd-time ostinato, “Seven Cows” journeys from fuze to jazz, with a stop for Kai’s fierce fretless solo, capped by his konnakol vocals. Further instrumental gold can be found on “The Wake-Up Call,” built around Kai’s ridiculous and relentless slap part, and his bouncing finger-funk figure on “Chester the Pester” (a leaner, harder-swinging take than his Garaj Mahal version).
On the vocal side, Kai sings and delivers spoken word to “Worm,” an Oteil-esque, bluesy jam-band nod to the simple life form; the atmospheric “From the North to the South,” inspired by a spiritual invocation; and “Chase,” an edgy rebuttal to the Wall Street mob. Finally, in pure fingerboard terms, there’s “KK Express,” a landmark bass and kathak (a form of Indian classical dance) duet with Kaveri Agashe, and “Giant Slaps,” a killer culmination of Kai’s two-handed chordal slapping technque, decades in the making, using the Coltrane standard as a template for what he refers to as his “3D sound.” Call it “bassgeist” at its finest.