Brian Bromberg is a fifty-year-old bass player whose musical career began when he played drums professionally at age 13. A year later his junior high school music teacher introduced him to the upright bass, and so began a love affair that has continued to this day.
At various times his career has seen him walk both the so-called smooth jazz and straight-ahead jazz sides of the street. For a few years, with each new release he seemed to go back and forth from one to the other, as if he was trying each on to see where he fit in.
It Is What It Is – Artistry – 2009
The disk I want to talk about this week is Bromberg’s 2009 release, “It Is What It Is”. While this CD possibly doesn’t qualify as straight-ahead jazz, Bromberg’s electric bass is probably the only thing it has in common with smooth jazz.
It is, however, an enjoyable album featuring good music played well by a talented group of musicians. But then you already knew I felt that way, didn’t you? Otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time writing about it.
Before I go any further, let’s take a look at some of those musicians, who vary considerably from one track to the next:
Brian Bromberg, bass, tenor bass, piccolo bass, and several other variations
Gerald Albright, sax
Randy Brecker, trumpet
George Duke, Fender Rhodes, piano
Tony Guerrero, trumpet
Eric Marienthal, sax
Patrice Rushen, piano
Ramon Stagnaro, rhythm guitar
Dave Weckl, drums
There are a lot of horn players on this album, and I’ve only named a few of them above. There is nothing like a big horn section to give a piece of music the feeling of power that makes you want need to get up and move! instead of sitting on your fanny. Yet after the horns fall silent, you’re left with the warm feeling of intimacy that comes from seeing a quartet perform live in a coffee shop or other small venue.
There are thirteen tracks on “It Is What It Is”. I have no intention of talking about all thirteen. But they’re all so good, narrowing the selection down to just a few is not going to be easy.
The title track is up first, and “It Is What It Is” manages to achieve both feelings described above, all in just under six minutes. “It Is…” is also the first of eleven tracks that Bromberg either wrote or co-wrote. It’s definitely a spirited piece of music that does a good job of setting the stage for all that follows.
What does follow is “Love Shack”. I have read that this song was a big hit for The B52’s. Since that is one group I have managed to never hear, although I’ve heard of them, I’ll have to take the word of those who have.
“Love Shack” is also one of the songs that inspired the rather large disclaimer on the CD insert. It says, in all red caps: “There are no guitar melodies or guitar solos on this recording.”
Then, in a smaller font printed in black, it goes on to say: “All melodies and solos that sound like guitar are played by Brian on piccolo basses. Piccolo basses are basses with strings that are tuned to the register of a guitar.”
“Love Shack” does indeed seem to have a guitar lead, although if you listen closely something about it sounds almost not quite right. It’s not an unpleasant sound, however. Jeff Lorber and Patrice Rushen do a great job on keyboards and piano, and all those horns in the background give the whole thing a boisterous back line that carries it right along to the final fadeout.
The first forty-five seconds of the oddly-named “Elephants On Ice Skates” features Bromberg and his bass doing a mellow, solo intro. Then the horns hit, along with Will Kennedy’s drums, and the song takes off from there with a funky, slow-burning groove.
You can’t write about “It Is What It Is” without mentioning track seven, Quincy Jones’ delightful theme song for the Red Foxx TV comedy “Sanford And Son”. I loved Red Foxx’s comedy routines, raunchy as they usually were, and so I was naturally drawn to the TV show like a moth to a flame. The humor was tamed-down, of course, because this was broadcast television, not cable. But it was still a great program.
At the time “Sanford And Son” was on the air, I was mainly listening to Clapton, Elton John, The Eagles, Neal Diamond, and lots and lots of movie and TV soundtrack albums. I loved the funkiness of the “Sanford And Son” theme, but never was able to find a soundtrack album for the show. One of these days I’ll start looking again, but until then this version of the theme is good enough for me. Besides Rick Braun on trumpet and Gary Meek on tenor sax, we are treated to no less than George Duke on the Fender Rhodes and Eric Marienthal on alto and baritone sax.
“Martinis At The Velvet Lounge?”, another Bromberg original, once more shows his skill at playing that bass as though it were a guitar. Or am I hearing Gannin Arnold playing rhythm guitar? No matter, it’s all good. I love the way the percussion, courtesy of Alex Acuna, punctuates every phrase.
The disc closes on a high note with “Slap Happy,” another vigorous Bromberg original.

I feel confident in saying that “It Is What It Is” would make a wonderful addition to most jazz-lover’s Saturday night playlist! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a clip from YouTube of Brian playing the title track from this great album.

To learn more about Brian Bromberg and his music, visit his web site.

Next time ’round: Another surprise. 😉

Copyright © 2011 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.


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