Christian McBride & Edgar Meyer: But Who’s Gonna Play The Melody?

Two bass virtuosi confound expectation and sustain interest through a set covering the GAS, some bebop and some classical

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Not many album titles are in the form of a question; which begs the question whether this piece of music was conceived as an answer in search of a musical question or question waiting for a musical answer? In fact, the title arose because of a response to a picture posted on Facebook of bassists McBride and Meyer working on the album. Both players liked the witticism so much, they adopted it.

The album was born out of a mutual admiration for each other’s work, arising after Ray Brown introduced them to each other in the 1990s. Many years later that led to a one-night concert, which in turn led to the germination of the idea for an album.

As always with an album consisting of only two musicians playing the same instrument, the challenge is to make the music listenable and enjoyable to an audience. Fans of the acoustic bass, as well as of McBride and Meyer, will be bowled over by the skill on display, but can your average jazz punter sit down with a glass of wine and listen to the whole album? Maybe that is the more pertinent question?

In short, yes. Whilst there is plenty of virtuoso playing and bass fireworks, there is also enough variety in the choice of music – ranging from the Great American Song Book with Richard Rodgers’ Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered and Mancini’s Days Of Wine And Roses to Miles Davis’s Solar and Bill Monroe’s Tennessee Blues – to keep most jazz fans happy.

The album opens in jaunty fashion with the obliquely named Green Slime. Finger-picked bass provides the driving rhythm, whilst a superbly bowed bass adds the melody. There is no telling who is playing which role, but as both players are bass magicians it doesn’t really matter. Barnyard Disturbance continues in a similar upbeat manner with plenty of bass duelling. Bebop, Of Course is, well, great bebop! Miles Davis’s Solar is played at a frantic pace, but never loses its structure or rhythm. Canon and Interlude #1 are more classically themed, with a rich, cello-like sound. Both players are also accomplished pianists, and this instrument is used to great effect on tracks such as the beautiful Lullaby For A Ladybug and Bewitched Bothered And Bewildered.

I was impressed with not just the musicianship on this album (I expected that), but by the ability of both musicians to create music that was much larger than its component parts. It did entertain and held my attention in a way that I was perhaps not expecting, Comparisons with Grappelli and Menuhin spring to mind.


Discography
Green Slime; Barnyard Disturbance; Bebop, Of Course; Bass Duo #1; Solar; Canon; Philly Shop; Interlude #1; FRB 2DB; Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered; Bass Duo #2; Lullaby For A Ladybug; Days Of Wine And Roses; Interlude #2; Tennessee Blues (66.00)
McBride, Meyer (b, p). Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN (no recording date provided).
Mack Avenue Records MAC1155