Brad Cheeseman: The Tide Turns
It's always fascinating to witness the cycles music goes through, not just in pop and rock but jazz and classical too. Not all that many years ago, fusion was a dirty word in jazz circles, but enough time has passed that a revival of sorts now seems to be in the offing. Though bassist Brad Cheeseman christens his second full-length outing ‘contemporary jazz,' it's sure to appeal to fans of Weather Report, Return To Forever, and the like; close your eyes and “All In” might even have you thinking you're hearing an unreleased track from Wayne Shorter's Joy Ryder or Phantom Navigator than one by a Hamilton, Ontario-based electric bass player (further to that, the title of the ballad “Something You Said,” could pass for a subtle nod to Weather Report's “A Remark You Made”). That said, it would be misleading to label Cheeseman's music fusion, such a term being too reductive for a style so multi-faceted, and it's also largely free of the excesses that gradually gave fusion a bad name. Contemporary jazz, it turns out, might be the best way to describe it.
Genre considerations aside, The Tide Turns, the bassist's full-length follow-up to 2015's Brad Cheeseman Group, is a superbly realized set whose nine tracks show him to be a more than deserving recipient of the coveted Grand Prix de Jazz, which he and his band won at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival. And while the album cover displays his name only, the recording's very much an ensemble album with the bassist joined by Robert Chapman (guitar), Sam Kogen (piano), Marito Marques (drums), and Kelly Jefferson (tenor sax).
It's important to stress that on this album compositions and group playing are paramount; solos appear, of course, but they grow out of the melody-rich structures Cheeseman provides. The leader's playing is riveting, and, in contrast to many a jazz album where the bass is so deep in the mix it verges on inaudible, his is always clearly defined; in fact, one of the album's greatest pleasures involves hearing him play unison lines with other ensemble members. His agile, precise attack cuts through the mix splendidly, which makes The Tide Turns an especially attractive proposition for bass aficionados.
Formally speaking, Jefferson and Chapman are the primary soloists, though Kogen, Marques, and the leader, naturally, take tasteful turns too. Each contributes invaluably to the whole, though I do wish Marques had exercised a bit more restraint in a couple of places; there are moments during “Something You Said” and the lovely, set-closing rendering of Feist's “Lonely Lonely” when his playing's a little too overpowering for my taste.
The album's most infectious cut, “All In” grooves seductively from the drop with a breezy pulse that grows ever funkier as the track advances. A smoky sax solo briefly dims the lights before the funk groove locks back into position and we're again treated to the delicious rendering of the main theme by Cheeseman and Jefferson. One of the set's most affecting ballads, “I'd Do Everything” also makes a strong impression with its quietly uplifting, almost gospel-like spirit and soothing melodic character.The Tide Turns is abundant in tightly executed ensemble playing, the Metheny-esque “Falling Forward,” fierce “High Tide,” and brisk, Latin-tinged “Get That Fire” (which the leader powers with Jaco-like figures) among them, and is also distinguished by stylistic range, with ballads interspersed amongst the uptempo cuts. Cheeseman has every reason to be proud of this exceptionally accomplished collection; there's certainly no trace of any so-called sophomore slump here.