Over the decades, ECM has released a line of inventive albums showcasing solo double bass by such virtuosos of the instrument as Dave Holland, Barre Phillips and Miroslav Vitous. Now the label presents “The Gleaners”, the first album of solo bass by Larry Grenadier, who’s personal tone has made him a bassist of choice for such artists as Paul Motian and Pat Metheny, not to mention some 25 years of working in pianist Brad Mehldau’s widely influential trio.
“The Gleaners” includes 7 original compositions by Grenadier, along with distinctive interpretations of numbers by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian. There’s also a pair of pieces written especially for the bassist by Wolfgang Muthspiel, plus an instrumental version of “Gone like the season does”, a song by Grendier’s wife and frequent collaborator, singer Rebecca Martin.
The first thing to say about this album is that you don’t need to be an aficionado of the double bass to enjoy it. The warmth of the recording, along with the wonderful musicality of Grenadier’s playing, make it a surprisingly accessible and rewarding 42 minutes of listening. There’s a rhythmic flow to the whole album that captures the imagination, with the bassist providing a luminous, creative soundscape of melody, texture and colour.
The album opens with the rich tone and detail of the melodic “Oceanic”, performed arco style and sounding like a deep orchestral cello piece. The grooving pizzicato homage “Pettiford” follows, about which Grenadier says: “That track is my tribute to Oscar Pettiford, one of the first jazz bass players I really dug.” The artfully overdubbed “Woebegone” is a wonderful piece, leading me to the conclusion that perhaps a few more intelligent overdubs on other tracks might have enriched this album even further… maybe something the bassist might consider for the future. The medley of Coltrane’s “Compassion” and Motian’s “The Owl of Cranston” is mesmerising, and interesting to hear how the bassist develops the themes and revitalises them for a solo bass interpretation. “Another musical hero of mine has always been Miles Davis,” Grenadier comments. “for his sound and the way he thought about music, as well as the bands he put together. I love the Miles and Gil Evans version of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, so including “My Man’s Gone Now” is my nod to that inspiration.
The title of “The Gleaners” was inspired by a documentary film from 2000, “The Gleaners and I”, by the French director Agnes Varda, who was in turn influenced by the 19th century painting by Millet called “The Gleaners”, of women harvesting in a field. “For me, as a musician, you glean things from the people you play with and the music you listen to, but it takes work to get the most out of everything, to harvest the things you can use yourself.” Grenadier says. And with the decades of playing that the bassist has produced, along with this fine exploration of his instrument, one would imagine there will be plenty of artists gleaning from him.