(Jazz, Instrumental Jazz, Modern Jazz)
Clark Sommers Lens – By A Thread (ears&eyes Records / ee:17-o64)
12” vinyl LP/digital release date: July 21st 2017 Pre-orders available: June 16th 2017
Quick Pitch Points:
– Vocalist Kurt Elling’s bassist who has performed on two Grammy-nominated recordings, one of which won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album in 2010
– Feature interview and front cover of Chicago Jazz Magazine, April 2017
– Release shows at Chicago’s famed Green Mill, Friday June 30th and Saturday July 1st featuring Jeff Parker
– Bassist for Portland’s pianist Darrell Grant in his Territory Ensemble, which includes Brian Blade, Joe Locke & Steve Wilson
– 12” vinyl LP release w/ download bonus track
Clark Sommers – bass/compositions (of Kurt Elling, Brian Blade)
Jeff Parker – guitar (of Tortoise, Isotope 217, Brian Blade Fellowship)
Kendrick Scott – drums (of Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, Dianne Reeves, Maria Schneider, Wayne Shorter, Bilal, Christian McBride, David Sanborn, John Patitucci, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Robert Glasper, Stefon Harris, Kenny Garrett, Pat Metheny, Nicholas Payton)
Gary Versace – organ/rhodes (of John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Al Foster, Regina Carter, Maria Schneider, Madeleine Peyroux, Matt Wilson, Joe Magnarelli, Andy LaVerne, Adam Nussbaum, Brad Shepik, Ingrid Jensen)
Geof Bradfield – saxes/bass clarinet (of Marquis Hill, Dana Hall, Jeff Parker, Matt Ulery)
Joel Adams – trombone/megabone on ‘Pillage’
Vijay Tellis-Nayak – Moog on ‘Meet Me Halfway’ (bonus track)
Story: Renown backbone of a bassist reaches out on leading this stellar cast of equally supportive musicians on his first vinyl release, By A Thread.
Clark Sommers has traveled the world performing and recording with legendary musicians like vocalist and Grammy Award nominated and winning Kurt Elling (one of which won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album in 2009 where Sommers appears), Darrell Grant’s ‘The Territory’ group which includes Brian Blade, Steve Wilson and Joe Loche, Scott Hesse Trio which includes label International Anthem’s ‘beat scientist’ drummer/composer Makaya McCraven, his Ba(SH) trio with drummer force Dana Hall at the helms, Nate Lepine’s quartet and vinyl LP release featuring Nick Mazzarella & Quin Kirchner, among many others.
On top of these close knit relationships, he’s also performed with Cedar Walton, Von Freeman, Frank Wess, Ernie Watts, Ira Sullivan, Charles McPherson, Peter Bernstein, Bobby Broom, Ron Perrillo, Michael Weiss, George Fludas, Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, the Mighty Blue Kings and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra among others.
Sommers completed his undergraduate degree in Jazz Studies and World Music at California Institute of the Arts, where he studied with bass masters Charlie Haden and Darek Oles and also performed in the Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra. He continues to seek expansion of his craft by pursuing his musical studies with masters such as David Grossman of the New York Philharmonic, Mike Longo and Stefon Harris. He recently completed two residencies at the Brubeck Institute in Stockton, California.
Sommers was on the front cover of the Chicago Jazz Magazine (April ’17) with a feature interview where he discusses the many influences and teachers that have made him the player he is today.
On this album, By A Thread, Sommers amasses some of the most important forward-thinking jazz artists on the current scene to release this vinyl LP. Here’s what Neil Tesser, a Grammy Award-winning American journalist, radio host, music critic, and author and in 2015, the recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Jazz Journalism had to say in his liner notes for Sommers’ By A Thread:
“To be honest,” says Chicago bassist Clark Sommers, “I’m not a fan of bass-driven records.” So Sommers has gone ahead and made something quite different.
When Sommers refers to “bass-driven” jazz, he means this: a recording led by a bassist who, looking to break out from traditional roles, puts his instrument front and center and fills the solo space with as much knuckle-busting virtuosity as you might imagine. In such recordings, the bass may still occupy its time-honored role in modern music, acting seesawing between the drummer’s rhythms and the pianist’s harmonies. But the spotlight rests firmly on big technique and solo flash.
You won’t find that here; in fact, Sommers takes exactly one solo on this disc, in “Points Of Reduction.” Hearing it, you may wish he’d taken more. He produces a medium-dark sound of blueberries and coffee, and his lines have a lithe bounce. They don’t teem with empty verbiage; Sommers knows the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. And when he wraps it up, he slides effortlessly back into his main role, using the final note of his solo to start his accompaniment for the organ solo that follows. It’s a fine illustration of his stated intent to “not be a ‘bass virtuoso’ on this album,” in his words. “It’s more about the compositions and the music as a whole.”
It certainly helps to have such superb compositions and collaborators as those heard here. Listen to “By A Thread,” a perfect marriage of material and personnel. It has the energy of a whirling top, thanks to how Sommers has folded the off-kilter melody into the waltz meter, which also fosters a sense of displacement that the band exploits in the middle of the track. This would occur with any instrumentation; it’s baked into the tune. But consider how Gary Versace’s otherworldly organ sounds, and Jeff Parker’s mysterioso guitar effects, amplify that sense of displacement. Either of Sommers’s choices – the melodic swirl of the theme, or the timbral ingenuity of the soloists – would make for a memorable musical event; together, they identify what this album achieves throughout.
“I wrote this music with specific spaces for these people,” Sommers says. He first heard Parker in 1996, and even then, “He was so sparse and concise, and he had such a strong musical personality. He brings these sonic textures that I really wanted for this music. He’s a chameleon; he’ll play with Tortoise, and then the AACM, and then Joey DeFrancesco. But he never fails to sound like himself. Without him, this record would have been much less dimensional.” As for Versace, Sommers marvels, “He’s an unconventional conventionalist: he wants to re-invent the wheel every time out.” Versace has done this on virtually every recording to feature his organ work over the last two decades, with fresh and frisky solo ideas and imaginative use of the organ’s myriad timbres. “He’s the wildcard you know is in the deck – and you want him there,” says Sommers. “The combination of that with Parker’s sound was exactly what I was hearing.”
Sommers met Versace when both toured with Kurt Elling; that’s also where Sommers met drummer Kendrick Scott, his partner in propelling Elling’s band since 2011. “Kendrick has this incredible macro-sense of where each piece is going. He has all this virtuosity, but it’s transparent, never disrupting the flow. And I’ve never seen anybody who could so instantly get inside the music.” This comes to the fore in the up-tempo passages, as you’d expect. But listen to Scott’s sensitivity on the gentler “Meet Me Halfway,” or his orchestrational shimmers behind the sonic ghosts conjured by Versace and Parker on “Chasm,” to fully appreciate his embrace of the music’s soul.
Sommers has worked with the ear-opening saxophonist Geof Bradfield on a panoply of projects since 1997 and admits, “I hear his sound in everything I write and every band I conceive of. He has a total handle on the canon; his time is impeccable, his sound is defined and clear, but funky and greasy in all the right ways. He just has a voice. And as a composer – I wish I had a fraction of that. No doubt that he’s influenced my own writing.” But in addition to writing with Bradfield in mind – listen particularly to “Halfway” and also “Simple Act” – Sommers heard another horn in the mix. Enter trombonist Joel Adams, whose Chicago Yestet has included Sommers from its inception. “I didn’t want trumpet, and I didn’t want two saxophones. But I really like the way Jaco Pastorius used French horns, and having the trombone is my attempt to have some of that.”
Most of these compositions gestated for years before this recording, going as far back as Sommers’s time at California Institute of the Arts, where he studied with Charlie Haden while earning his degree in Jazz Studies and World Music. But the catalyst for completing these pieces – and in some cases rewriting them – came when Sommers studied composition with vibraphonist Stefon Harris.
“That’s when the light bulb came on. I could really articulate the harmonies I was hearing – the middle harmonies. Bass players work from the bottom up, the harmonic root of the chord; piano players work from the top down, from the melodic structure, so they get these other chord extensions. You can get away with being a bass player and not knowing that stuff; you can still have a great beat, feel, technique. I wanted more. This music is a direct result of bringing some clarity to harmony; it freed me up to make more deliberate choices.”
Bass-driven record? Uh-uh. Bassist-driven record? You got it. – Neil Tesser
Recorded by Vijay Tellis-Nayak at Transient Sound in Chicago IL USA
Mixed by Todd Bergman in Los Angeles CA USA
Mastered by Gentry Studer in Los Angeles CA USA
Album artwork by Federico Maksimiuk (Fede Maks) & Ailim Melillan (Heroinax)
Layout by Federico Maksimiuk