June 17, 2024

Low Blow Victor Bailey
Low Blow
by John Barrett

The musician who says a lot often demands a lot from himself. A prime example is Victor Bailey, long-time partner of Joe Zawinul (with the Syndicate and Weather Report.) That alone proves him a fine musician, but he hasn’t led a record date in ten years. The reasons are many, for his goals are ambitious. He wants to transcend his instrument; “The main thing I’m trying to show … is that I’m not a bass player. I don’t play the bass. I play music.” Change the instrument and it’s what Artie Shaw said 50 years before. He wants to show his prowess as a composer, his variety of tones, his ability to organize. So much is done well it’s hard to say what he does best. “… I really wanted to show the music that I have inside me.” That he does.

Think of an airplane: the takeoff is slow, and leads to ever loftier heights. “Lowblow” is smooth sailing, Victor scatting in step with his wiry bass. Around him are restful clouds: Henry Hey’s synth, light bursts of guitar. The bridge breaks free – an open shout in an airy expanse. When Victor starts sliding, you hit a peak. And as it turns out, a foothill compared to what follows.

“Sweet Tooth” is a different taste: a mood like “Lowblow”, with added aggression. The bassline makes little steps lower. Kenny Garrett trills delirious, a Coltrane soprano with the soul of an oboe. The halves are splendid; the whole is uneven. “City Living” serves ladles of funk, strutting righteous next to the old Fender Rhodes. The sax is Bill Evans: lighter than Garrett, he pops happy lines that resemble a dance. Guitarist Krantz twangs a nice moment, and the Rhodes chimes some old soul. Lots of that good ‘Seventies feeling, which brings us to the next subject.

“I can’t even say that I wrote it … it just came through me.” Written the week of Jaco’s death, “Do You Know Who” adds a lyric to “Continuum”, mentioning other Pastorius songs on the way. As Victor plays the theme, he sings, voice an octave or two above the bass. What words, stuffed with internal rhymes and a lot of love: “Take your place and/ See the bassman… Get outta here, don’t even try it/ That isn’t a bass/ If it is then I guess he just/ Took it to another place.” On so many levels this works: glowing mood, facile words, one of the best vocalese efforts I’ve heard, a tribute to a legend by a successor to his chair – I’m impressed. As Victor is of Jaco.

From here it keeps getting better. “Knee-Jerk” weaves a spunky guitar on a boiling rhythm. Krantz seizes the spotlight, Jim Beard spins that Wurlitzer (lighter touch than the Fender; how it helps) and don’t forget the bass. “She Left Me” is a song of joy – it appears “she” is not missed. Victor walks through the park; the synth is him whistling. Evans has his best moment, Omar taps a pretty brush – and Victor climbs the stairs on his solo, so happy and lighter than air. A “smooch” ballad with an unlikely title … unless he’s already found his new love.

Next is another tribute – Larry Graham is best known for pop (“One in a Million You”) but his Graham Central Station was a hotbed of funk. (Before that, he was in Sly and the Family Stone.) “Graham Cracker” snaps a nasty groove, perfect for Krantz’ wail and the struttin’ keys. The definitive Big Bad Riff – there’s nothing like it. “E-flat major something”, he says at the end; you have to chuckle. “Babytalk” is you, your special one, and a Wurlitzer late at night. Not a waltz, but it feels like one; the brushes are intimate and the bassline caresses. Victor’s solo is almost a keyboard, with its soft wavering hum. And “Brain Teaser” gets us back on the floor; the drums pack thunder, and the bass is all motion. Check the beat – it’s a samba, though very fast. Victor rips through what is practically a guitar solo, then Krantz has an angular turn, his best. The heat is immense, with joy – the satisfaction of a job well done.

Rating: ****. Everything from “Do You Know Who” to the end is superb, and the others ain’t bad. Victor is rarely the main voice, but always a factor – his writing is marvelous. “Do You Know Who” deserves to be a standard, and this album deserves the attention of your ears.

Songs: Lowblow; Sweet Tooth; City Living; Do You Know Who/Continuum; Knee-Jerk Reaction; She Left Me; Graham Cracker; Babytalk; Feels Like a Hug; Brain Teaser.

Musicians: Victor Bailey (bass, vocals, keyboards); Kenny Garrett or Bill Evans (soprano sax); Michael Bearden, Jim Beard, or Henry Hey (keyboards); Wayne Krantz (guitar); Omar Hakim or Dennis Chambers (drums).

For more info visit the Zebra Records Website.

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