Jimmy Earl: Jimmy Earl & Stratosphere [Severn Record]

Sometimes a great player can have it all—tone, chops, groove, luck, personality, high-profile gigs—and still remain under the radar.
By E.E. Bradman ,

Sometimes a great player can have it all—tone, chops, groove, luck, personality, high-profile gigs—and still remain under the radar. One of the most egregious examples is that of Jimmy Earl, whose absence from popularity polls might be linked to the fact that some of his best work has been in the shadow of other bassists— and the sad truth that he’s released just two solo albums in his three-decade career.

Jimmy Earl, released in 1995 and reissued this year by Severn Records, features all the tasteful chops you’d expect of someone who put the bottom under Stanley Clarke’s piccolo and tenor bass explorations and then followed John Patitucci in Chick Corea’s Elektric Band II. The album’s synths and drum programming haven’t aged well, but the playing and the compositions—which include the Steve Swallow chestnut “Falling Grace” and an unaccompanied solo take on Maurice Ravel’s “Pavane”—still make an impact. When Earl’s muscular, supportive tone rises to the forefront every so often, his solos blaze, and his interplay with drummers Dave Weckl and Gary Novak is electric.

Stratosphere, Earl’s 1998 follow-up, is a different animal. He’s credited on every track with “bass, computers & machines,” and sometimes, his nimble soloing and somewhat thin slap tone take a back seat to breakbeats, samples, and other elements of mid-’90s electronica. Stratosphere would’ve been cutting edge if he had released it four years earlier, but it hasn’t aged well, either. Still, there are beautiful, Fender Rhodes-drenched moments that linger after the CD is over.

Shortly after the release of Stratosphere, Earl took over for Roscoe Beck in Robben Ford’s the Blue Line, and then joined Cleto and the Cletones, the house band on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a gig he holds to this day. As successful as he’s been, however, these two solo albums hint that there’s more to this flexible, imaginative maestro than first-call sideman. Here’s hoping that these reissues are appetizers for the next entries in Jimmy Earl’s catalog.