Rob Thorsen is a fine musician, one of a small handful of San Diego’s top bassists. He excels at the basics, having a great sound and a great sense of time. Most apparent is his ability to establish the groundwork of a tune and at the same time, working with the other musicians, developing the composition and taking it in different directions. He listens, responds, and creates.
For his latest disk, Bass Is the Space, Thorsen presents four solo performances and eight duos with five of San Diego’s most noted jazz and soul performers. The disk is a success from beginning to end. Thorsen wrote and chose some fine compositions, and the performances are stellar.
Among the solo bass performances I was particularly struck by “Spirit,” in which Thorsen uses the magic of the recording studio to accompany himself. The arco bass, with all the rich overtones, is beautiful and quite moving. I thoroughly enjoyed the disk’s opener, Nat Adderly’s “Work Song.” The choice of using a mid-century Kay bass (Thorsen plays a 19th-century German bass on all the other compositions.) with gut strings was genius. Maybe it’s because of my Appalachian roots, but that bass just sounds so good!
Thorsen’s frequent collaborator, Steph Johnson, contributes on two duo efforts, “Tespestade” and “Be Light.” This second tune also appears on Johnson’s recent CD, to be reviewed in the October issue. I loved hearing the contrast of interpretations—how without guitar, drums, and other instruments the tune takes on a more open, freer feel.
The most sensitive interpretation is Marshall Hawkins, another top local bassist, joining Thorsen on Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” Hawkins has a lighter tone and feel than Thorsen, and the contrast is captivating as the two bassists toss the tune back and forth to each other.
Jazz bass icon Ron Carter complained years ago of the difficulties of pairing the bass with the electric piano. The amplified instrument’s emphasis on the fundamental of the note interferes with the whole nature of the bass. Such problems do not come to the fore when Thorsen teams up with Joshua White’s two contributions. The pianist gives Thorsen a lot of space on the bottom end on two performances in which the interactions of the two musicians take things to another level.
In jazz settings we’re used to hearing the drums drop out for the bass solo and the bass doing the same for solo drums. It is interesting to hear the collaboration of the two rhythm section instruments, as drummer Fernando Gomez performs for two of the duos. My favorite tune was trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos joining Thorsen on “Ornette’s Vibe,” one of Thorsen’s compositions on this disk. I just loved the sound of the bass working with the trumpet, which is very open, yet full.
The quality of the recording, all the mastering and engineering, is tops. Bass Is the Space also gets six bonus points for having over an hour of music. If you like jazz, if you’re a real music lover, this disk is for you.