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Sting

The Bridge [A&M]

On his first studio album since his 2018 collaboration with Shaggy, Sting is back in a big, bass-heavy way on The Bridge, manning fretted, fretless, and acoustic basses, and for the first time including a bass feature (be sure to get the 13-track deluxe edition). The record — inspired by and recorded during the pandemic — kicks off with two radio-ready tracks: the Police-ish “Rushing Water,” and the positive popper “If It’s Love.” The darker, more narrative “The Book of Numbers” and the Celtic march “The Hills on the Border” sit upon Sting’s tasteful, deep-toned fretless parts (courtesy of his tobacco-sunburst fretless Fender Jazz Bass), while “Loving You” rides Maya Jane Coles’ loping synth bass. “Harmony Road” is a pivot point, echoing solo Sting with its 5/4 meter (nicely developed by drummer Josh Freese), angular changes, and a soaring soprano sax solo from Branford Marsalis. “For Her Love” has a “Shape of My Heart”-like start before firmly establishing its own identity. “Captain Bateman” and “The Bells of St. Thomas” are instant Sting classics. The former, featuring Sting’s fretless, Peter Tickell’s fertile fiddle, and Manu Katché’s probing drums, spins an evocative yarn with multiple hook-laden sections. The latter, a simmering jazz waltz with Katché, the ever present Dominic Miller on guitars, and Sting on upright, unfolds with mystery and nuance, both in story and the kind of ear-grabbing harmonic twists Sting favors. And then there’s the gift to us bassists, “Captain Bateman’s Basement.” The lowdown is that Sting took an earlier version of “Captain Bateman,” with just Katché’s ridiculously funky drums and Martin Kierszenbaum’s atmospheric synths, grabbed his ’57 Fender Precision, and improvised on chorus after chorus, doubling the ultra-melodic phrases he plays on bass with his wordless vocals (scat-’n’-play, as they say). Delightfully unexpected, but not surprising when you consider the wide range of approaches Sting has both played on and written for his instrument. –Chris Jisi

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Eric Clapton 

The Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions [Mercury Studios]

The guitar god’s latest, a fascinating CD/DVD package, is the result of COVID cancelling his May 2021 Royal Albert Hall run. Anxious to play during the lockdown, Clapton enlisted drummer Steve Gadd, keyboardist Chris Stainton, and Nathan East to come to Cowdray House in West Sussex, England, for an intimate, mostly unplugged, 17-track sojourn through his career. (The titular lady — Clapton’s wife Melia — plus his longtime producer, Russ Titelman, and a small crew, were the only other people onhand.) For the first six tracks, including a simmering cover of “Black Magic Woman” and an up, rock version of “After Midnight” (which rides a A-C-D-A-G-F# bass ostinato), East provides warm, wide, tasteful acoustic bass. He switches to his Yamaha 5-string acoustic bass guitar for EC’s 1970 Derek & the Dominos classic “Bell Bottom Blues,” and to provide the arpeggio backing on Clapton’s poignant 1998 ballad “River of Tears.” Other highpoints — all with East on his ABG 5 — are the quartet’s acoustic take on Clapton’s uplifting Brazilian-inspired samba “Believe in Life”; the funky blues cover “Going Down Slow”; a faster-paced, but still two-feel “Layla”; and a tighter, brighter “Tears in Heaven,” with East adapting his fretless counter-lines from the original version. The accompanying film adds the essential visual component (such as Gadd playing with his fingers at times, and the toll the guitars take on Clapton’s hands), and includes EC reminiscing about when he first met Gadd and East. –Chris Jisi 

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Geezer Butler

Manipulations Of The Mind – The Complete Collection [BMG]

Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler sure sounds like he had an axe to grind once he started popping out solo albums in the mid-’90s. The material crafted by the venerable bassist features uber-heavy, quasi-industrial metal riffs, coupled with Ozzy-meets-death growl-style vocals (courtesy of Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, and then Clark Brown), giving Butler the musical upper hand amongst his Sabbath peers at the time. It’s obvious that Butler was simply not content to rehash the musical tropes that made him famous, or that his former colleagues continued to plunder, and chose instead to channel his frustration with Sabbath into a trio of inspired solo albums, featuring contemporary-sounding songs that drew equally upon his legacy as a master lyricist, as well as the burgeoning industrial metal zeitgeist of the late-’90s.

The four-CD Manipulations Of The Mind box set includes all three of his solo albums—Plastic Planet, Black Science, and Ohmwork, plus a bonus disc of rare material—a treasure trove of unreleased demos, studio outtakes, single edits, and three live tracks, captured at the Majestic Theatre, Detroit, Michigan in February 1996, as well as the song “Beach Skeleton,” only previously heard on the Japanese edition of Black Science.

Geezer’s first solo album, Plastic Planet, was released in 1995 and mostly eschews Sabbath’s doomy blues rock in favor of an industrial sound that was at the forefront of heavy metal in the ’90s, though it’s quite shocking that the opening riff on album-starting “Catatonic Eclipse” wasn’t pilfered by Tony Iommi at some point—it’s simply that iconic. Speaking of Iommi, “Giving up the Ghost” is reportedly about him. The dynamic guitar/bass duo had a falling out after Sabbath’s Cross Purposes album and tour, and Butler’s dissatisfaction with Sabbath’s musical direction, and revolving supporting cast, fuels the song’s lyrics. Other songs, like “House of Clouds,” “Detective 27,” and the title track, are simply bludgeoning in both tone and temperament, and even by today’s standards Butler’s tone is massive.

Black Science followed in 1997, and Bell was replaced by Brown on vocals. It’s an equally high-energy record, with heavy-as-hell power grooves, again courtesy of drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey, Ozzy, etc.), whose stellar double-kick Butler deftly navigates, attacking his bass with a fervor like his life depends on it—maybe musically it did. The material still sounds fantastically ferocious today, and songs like “Among the Cybermen,” “Mysterons,” and “Man in a Suitcase” source off of Butler’s childhood memories of sci-fi television, revealing a level of lyrical intimacy the bassist doesn’t normally share.

With Ohmwork, released in 2005, gone were the industrial metal influences of the previous decade, and Castronovo was replaced by Chad Smith (not the RHCP drummer). But Butler still steadfastly refused to loot his past, choosing instead to draw on the contemporary sounds and production styles that were happening in rock at the time. From the pedal-to-the-metal of "Aural Sects" to the epic, neo-psychedelia of “I Believe,” Ohmwork is a fitting finale to Geezer's solo album trilogy. –Freddy Villano

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The JMV Collective

Frontiers [Blue Canoe]

Longtime educator and bassist Roy Vogt teams up with guitarist Denny Jiosa and drummer Tom Möller to create an inspiring world jazz album on the JMV Collective’s Frontiers project. Vogt’s playing is skillful throughout — in some cases laying down a simple, fat, repetitive groove that provides the firm foundation for Jiosa’s lead work, as on “Morocco,” and at other times offering a more melodic approach via his fretless, as on “Treviso.” Speaking of the fretless, be sure to check out the final track, “Gentle Chaos,” where Roy masterfully showcases his solo skills, all while never forgetting the bass player’s first job: to serve the song. –Rod Taylor

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Larry Goldings

Scary Goldings IV [Pockets Inc.]

The veteran organ master (James Taylor, John Mayer, Michael Brecker) has used such bottom-end beasts as Tim Lefebvre and Sam Wilkes on previous sides with his jam band-inspired L.A. project, Scary Goldings — which also features keyboardist Jack Conte (Pomplamoose), guitarist Ryan Lerman (John Legend), and drummers Tamie Barzilay (Tal Wilkenfeld) and Lemar Carter (Raphael Saadiq). For his fourth outing, Goldings recruits longtime cohort/guitarist John Scofield on six tracks, drummer Louis Cole (Knower) on three tracks, and MonoNeon on all ten tracks. The opener, “Disco Pills,” rides a greasy Mono ostinato that he boils down to fat, Anthony Jackson-style quarter-notes for the last third of the track, upping the funk quotient even higher. “Professor Vicarious,” featuring Scofield and Cole, is a catchy, Meters-esque romp with a unison riff and Mono’s sick syncopations throughout. “The Shiner” is a brighter boogie boasting a baddass Scofield solo and Mono’s edge-of-your-seat fills within his root-5th-octave groove framework. Elsewhere, the cascading, Sco-led “Tacobell’s Canon” is a Mono-fied course in cool notes between the downbeats. While MonoNeon continues to knock down walls in his solo career, he’s also pushing support bass into new terrain as an in-demand sideman. –Chris Jisi 

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Scott Kinsey/Mer Sal

Adjustments [Blue Canoe]

The fusion keyboard giant Kinsey teams with vocalist/bassist/composer Mer Sal for a riveting and highly original vocal record. Enlisting a who’s who of guests from both coasts, Kinsey and Sal have the golden touch throughout. The angular opener, “Tiny Circles” (with guitarist Scott Henderson), and the vibey “Bleeding Tears,” establish the blueprint, with Sal’s distinctive vocal tone and phrasing (she also plays bass on both tracks) and Kinsey’s richly orchestrated keyboards. Tim Lefebvre turns in a tour-de-force octaver performance as the counter-voice to Sal on “Innocent Victim.” Hadrien Feraud anchors the bluesy, fuzey “This Shell,” boasting an album-stopping guitar solo by Oz Noy. Jimmy Haslip holds the pulse on Kinsey’s bold reimaginging of Steely Dan’s “Time Out of Mind,” stretching in the outro. Junior Braguinha is pliable and conversational on a swung funk cover of the Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows,” with Nir Felder’s featured guitar. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” becomes a driving, re-harmed Weather Report-like jam, with Kinsey, a filtered Lefebvre, and drummer Gergo Borlai dialoguing in the solo section. And a stellar mashup of Joni Mitchell’s “Down to You” and Disney’s “Jungle Book” delivers Sal’s deft vocal, Kinsey’s artful acoustic piano work, and Michael Janisch’s nimble flights of fancy up and down the neck of his acoustic bass. Heady stuff. –Chris Jisi

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Basetla

Woman on the Run [2021]

With infectiously grooving bass lines that erupt out of the speakers, dreamy and soaring vocals anchored by deep lyrics, drums and percussion with origins from all over the map, and a style that’s, well, hard to pin down to one genre, Basetla’s Woman on the Run is a welcomed celebration from a duo who has lived many lifetimes beyond this debut. While the material was first conceived in the Bay Area, the married duo behind it — Elton Bradman (bass, drums, percussion) and Leela O (vocals, keyboards) — transplanted to Los Angeles before the album’s release, which seems to be the perfect fit for their sound. With definite influences of ’80s music, downtempo, synthpop, soul, and world music, along with a vintage-meets-modern feel, the album flows cohesively and confidently in a way that will attract listeners of all musical persuasions. That seems to be the case with anything as undeniably danceable as this is.

Being the bass half of a duo always carries a lot of weight, as marrying the rhythm and harmony is a more important task than ever. Bradman navigates this beautifully, as his lines channel inspiration from the likes of Abraham Laboriel, Mick Karn, Anthony Jackson, and even the early dub greats, in certain moments. The opening title track sets the tone early, as Bradman’s deep and patient grooves give space for Leela’s vocal cadences while riding out a vicious B string that pushes the track sonically. “Dream Chaser” gets the head nodding right out of the gate, as the strong ’80s vibes and sparse keys allow Bradman to blaze the trail ahead with a winding and flowing groove. “River Shaped Scar” and “Without a Tide” both bear heavy bass sections that display the deftness of his finger work and African influence, while “Ghost Town Love” stays tightly within the deep pocket of a swaying feel. “Moon Sister” shows the lyrical side of Bradman’s playing, as he catches Leela’s beautifully melodic direction at every bend. The bass of “Planted” has an edgy dub feel, as his percussive lines playfully nudge the rhythm, while “Where to Stargaze” takes a euphoric, astral journey powered by Bradman’s fretless voicings, which propel the listener blissfully into space.

From front to back, Woman on the Run is a stylistic journey that keeps you guessing what’s coming next, while successfully padding the voyage with enough familiarity and cohesiveness that you can lose yourself along the ride. The album showcases the duo’s prowess as musicians and songwriters in the most earnest way possible, but the more you listen to it, the more you understand that it’s a love letter at its core. And the two people penning it can fluidly translate that sentiment across genres into timeless, original, and downright enjoyable songs. –Jon D'Auria 

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Danny Zelisko

ALL EXCE$$: Occupation: Concert Promoter 

When it comes to rock and roll, Danny Zelisko has seen it all. Whether scoring some “hoochie cooch” for Muddy Waters or introducing his mom to Ringo Starr, Zelisko always left the show with an unbelievable story. In this personal and heartfelt collection of essays, Bill Graham’s protégé reflects on his five decades of experience in the live music business where he organized and promoted more than 12,000 shows. Zelisko conducted hard negotiations with Chuck Berry, brainstormed names for Lollapalooza with Perry Farrell, almost auditioned for Frank Zappa, and befriended world-class comedians like Rodney Dangerfield, Sam Kinison, and Andrew “The Diceman” Clay.

In ALL EXCE$$, Zelisko reveals how he co-founded the Grateful Dead as an annual Las Vegas draw, arranged “emergency pimple surgery” for Axl Rose, and was invited on stage to jam with Carlos Santana. Over 600 pictures of mostly never-before-seen-photos are featured in the book, printed on high gloss, high quality paper. Featured are stories and photos of rock heavyweights such as, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, Roger Waters, Aerosmith, the Grateful Dead, members of Led Zeppelin and the Doors, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck, Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Chuck Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, Tony Bennett, Muddy Waters, Genesis, Tina Turner, Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, the Monkees, James Brown, John Prine, and many more.

Says Zelisko: “No matter how popular or successful you are, I wanted to leave the reader with this idea that, ‘I know a kid that ought to read this book because anything’s possible.’” Though humble about his life experiences, Zelisko is clearly very proud of them as well. “I don't want to come off as a braggart or anything like that. But the thing that I’ve always said is, ‘It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.’”

Zelisko also happens to be an avid bass and memorabilia collector and has a respectable stable of instruments signed by rock royalty (see photos): John Entwistle, Roger Waters, Jack Bruce, Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, Sting, and Paul McCartney, to name a few. “It’s like the kings of British rock bass,” he gleefully attests, citing his collection. “Usually, I tried to get the model [bass] that the star played.”

Zelisko has tons of other memorabilia as well, from set lists to contracts to show files. “I’ve got thousands of signs, pictures, posters, backstage passes, and t-shirts. I mean it’s a plethora, a cornucopia, of memorabilia—a delight. People go nuts with this stuff, and I’m getting older, so I want to share it with people. I’ve been storing it for years; I want to sell it.” –Freddy Villano