Going solo is never a clear-cut thing for a ‘jazz’ bassist. And if you play electric bass, the issue becomes even murkier.
Do you go the chops-infused ‘fusion blowout’ route, or put composition first and place yourself in a variety of group environments a la Victor Bailey, John Patitucci, Jaco et al?
By and large, Robert Glasper Experiment/Terence Blanchard/Jill Scott bassist Derrick Hodge has gone for the latter in his Blue Note solo career thus far, but his sophomore album The Second tries for something a little different.
Reminiscent of Doug Wimbish’s solo work, it eschews licks in favour of vibes and textures, emphasised by the fact that he plays most instruments (occasionally joined by drummer Mark Colenburg) on all but one track, lending the album an intimate, homemade feel.
I really wanted to like The Second. Hodge has one of the most soulful, distinctive bass voices of the last few decades. But too many tracks feel like unfinished four-track demos (maybe they were). When the ploy works, as on ‘Heart Of A Dreamer’, the effect is uplifting and novel, coming on like a weird arrangement for piano, backwards guitar, 6-string bass and sampled xylophone, but when it doesn’t, as on ‘World Go Round’ and several other tracks, the gentle loops and simple melodies don’t leave much of an impression.
But there are treats too: ‘Song 3’ ushers in some gospel influences and a killer key change, while Hodge’s piano on ‘You Believed’ borrows stylistically from Glasper but lacks the intriguing harmonic movement. The album’s standouts unsurprisingly foreground more of a ‘band’ ethos: the superb, Stevie-esque ‘Going’ could almost be a Songs In The Key Of Life outtake, while ‘For Generations’, the only track featuring a horn section of Keyon Harrold, Corey King and Marcus Strickland, is a terrific almost-blues with a strong Ornette Coleman vibe. If only more of the album could have featured that lineup. Maybe next time.
The Second is out now on Blue Note.