Rob Thorsen – Lasting Impression (Pacific Coast Jazz 2009)

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Rob Thorsen is a well-studied bassist. He has not only depth of knowledge of rhythm and harmonics, but also has flawless technique expression and a wonderful intonation. On Lasting Impression, a rather prophetically entitled record, he displays all of his skills in glorious fashion. There is also a sense that Thorsen wants to let listeners know where the musical influences are coming from. Make no mistake, Thorsen has a unique voice, but it is important to follow in the steps of the masters who went before him. The music does not give this away, Thorsen’s technique and style belies his tribute to the spirits up above: from Blanton’s forthright swinging statements to Mingus’ mercurial metric exercises to express abrupt changes in mood and tempo to the vocal harmonics of La Faro and Pettiford.

And then there is the music, of course. Thorsen sets the pace and shape of sound to come. He does nothing that will be safe. This is why he opens with a remarkable version of a little known Charlie Parker chart, “Dexterity.” The choice is deliberate. Nothing will be safe and easy going forward. On the other hand the music may well be more challenging. As it is this arrangement is wonderfully set in 8/4, with trumpet and bass in counterpoint while stating the melody as the percussionist steadies the song with staccato precision. Gilbert Castellanos is extraordinary in the manner in which he phrases his solo. Josh Nelson’s piano break brings back Thorsen—whose solo is anything but predictable as he reaches for the outer limits of the song until the group returns where they began, in a chattering exchange between trumpet and bass yet again.

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“Giant Steps,” a doffing of the proverbial hat to Coltrane is one of only a handful of versions of Coltrane’s late 50s classic that attempts to set this monster tune in a contemporary context. Its stop-start tempo is reminiscent of much of Mingus’ work. But that is where the comparison ends. Thorsen deconstructs the song cleverly, ably abetted by pianist Nelson, who plays a perfect foil to Thorson’s dominant bass. Jackie McLean’s “Little Melone,” a wonderfully quirky song gets the appropriate straight ahead treatment, although the song is never quite liner and makes for quite a few twists and turns. On Chaplin’s classic “Smile” Keezer is mesmerizing and provides Thorsen with a unique opportunity to dig harmonically deep into the heart of the melody.

Nothing about this record was going to be safe. Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” gets a wonderfully surprising Afro-Cuban splash with Duncan Moore’s drums and Charlie Chavez’s congas, but here too, there is a wonderful rhythmic twist between verse and chorus, with a half stop. “Milagro Café,” based on a Costa Rican rhythmic experience is a revelation, but it is “Cigarones” that stands out from everything else. Here Thorsen digs deep into his tonal palette and with Castellanos’ soft flugelhorn playing counterpoint to the wonderfully lugubrious tone of Ben Wendel’s bassoon, this track reveals the depth of Thorsen’s compositional abilities.

Remarkably, Thorsen closes with an unaccompanied bass solo “Wish with Us,” reportedly inspired by a couple of West Coast street musicians. His wonderfully lyrical bass lines absolutely sing as he closes out his remarkable Lasting Impression.

Tracks: Dexterity; Giant Steps; Little Melone; Smile; Milagro Café; The Man I love; Dance of the Freaky Circles; Cigarones; its All Right with Me; Wish on US.

Personnel: Rob Thorsen: upright bass; Geoffrey Keezer: piano (3, 4, 6-8); Josh Nelson: piano (1, 2, 5, 9); Gilbert Castellanos: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 3, 5-8); Ben Wendel: tenor saxophone, bassoon (3, 5, 7-9); Duncan Moore: drums (except 10); Charlie Chavez: congas (6); John Rekovics: alto flute (8)

Rob Thorsen on the web: www.robthorsen.com

Review written by: Raul da Gama

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