Martin Wind’s New York Bass Quartet Reinterpret Bach to McCartney on “Air” (Album Review)

On Martin Wind’s Air the bass becomes the leading melodic voice, not just one bass, four of them in this unique configuration. Bassist Wind assembled fellow bassists Gregg August (2020 Grammy nominee in the “Best Large Ensemble Jazz Recording” category), Jordan Frazier (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra), and younger upstart Sam Suggs with guest drummers Matt Wilson and Lenny White (Return to Forever) along with organist Gary Versace. They play material ranging from classical (J.S. Bach) to jazz (Joe Zawinul. Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny) to pop (Paul McCartney) along with Wind originals, written and arranged with his students at Hofstra University where he teaches. These arrangements are challenging but the combination of bowed bass carrying melodies and harmonies while Wind keeps the plucking rhythm and occasionally stating it, work surprisingly well, drawing praise from the esteemed bassists Ron Carter and Rufus Reid, among others. One ingredient that also makes it work is its accessibility, including familiar fare such as “Beatles Medley” and Weather Report’s “Birdland.”

Sonically the range covers four octaves but mood-wise the range is even wider. The album is bookended by the title track, J.S. Bach’s “Air,” beginning with a quartet version and concluding with a trio version. In one sense, other than for purposes of symmetry, its solemn tone makes it a strange choice for an opener. That quickly changes though with the playful “(Give Me Some) G-String.”  The jaunty melody seems familiar, with each bassist taking a turn, while the others support gleefully. Versace’s B3 enters around the three-minute mark, completely changing the tenor of the tune into more of a funk work-out as drummer Lenny White helps set the groove, above which Wind articulates an extended solo before his colleagues rejoin and bring it home.

The highlight is this sequence that extends from the former into “Beatles Medley” and “Birdland.”  The Beatles tunes covered are “The Long and Winding Road,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “She`s Leaving Home” and “Lady Madonna.” It’s a fascinating peek into the famous foursome’s gift for melody and the moods shift in these four tunes, much as the moods do on this project as whole, a testament to Wind’s arrangement. The medley leads into the familiar strains of “Birdland” with Lenny White again delivering his signature backbeat.  

The spirited playing gives way to the mysterious, intriguing Charlie Haden’s “Silence,” begun as a chord progression of only eight measures, from which Wind extends it into an 8-minute opus featuring sequences of bowed and plucked solos along with one from Versace on the B3, as soloists step in and out. “I’d Rather Eat” plays as a perfect soundtrack for an intense TV drama while Pat Metheny’s “Tell Her You Saw Me” is brilliantly evocative with its bowed bass and new colors from Versace on piano and even a brief accordion spot. “Icelandic Romance” reads as a classical piece with the basses harmonizing gorgeously.

There have been albums featuring three bassists, but the bass quartet may well be the first of its kind. Kudos to Wind for developing such an inventive project. It works so well that sequels should be forthcoming.

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