Larry Grenadier “The Gleaners” (Short Form)

As one of the most admired, accomplished bassists working in jazz today, Larry Grenadier has been praised as “a deeply intuitive” musician by The New York Times and as an instrumentalist with a “fluid sense of melody” by Bass Player magazine. Grenadier has created an expansive body of work in collaboration with many of the genre’s most inventive, influential musicians – from early days playing with sax icons Joe Henderson and Stan Getz to what has been decades performing alongside pianist Brad Mehldau, from extended experiences working with the likes of Paul Motian and Pat Metheny to co-leading the cooperative trio Fly (with Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard) and quartet Hudson (with John Scofield, John Medeski and Jack DeJohnette). Over a performing and recording career that now spans three decades, it has been not only Grenadier’s instrumental virtuosity and instantly recognizable tone that have made him such an in-demand collaborator but also his uncommon artistic sensitivity, imagination and curiosity. In February 2019, ECM Records will release Grenadier’s first album of solo bass. Titled The Gleaners, it presents a brace of originals by the bassist alongside pieces by George Gershwin, John Coltrane and Paul Motian, as well as a pair of works written especially for Grenadier by guitarist, longtime friend and fellow ECM artist Wolfgang Muthspiel. Grenadier also includes an instrumental interpretation of a song by his wife, and frequent collaborator, the singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin.

Grenadier recorded The Gleaners in December 2016 at Avatar Studios in New York City for ECM with Manfred Eicher as producer and James Farber as engineer. Grenadier and Eicher mixed the album at Studios La Buissonne in France. In his liner note, Grenadier writes: “The process for making this record began with a look inward, an excavation into the core elements of who I am as a bass player. It was a search for a center of sound and timbre, for the threads of harmony and rhythm that formulate the crux of a musical identity.” Reflecting on the gestation of this first solo album, he talks further: “For years, I had been satisfied by collaborating with other artists, feeling that I had room for my own voice in the music. But Manfred planted the seed of making a solo album, and I cultivated it as an artistic challenge. Manfred is a former bassist, so he understands the instrument and its history, both in jazz and classical. Few people truly know how to treat the double-bass sonically in the studio, but Manfred concentrates on bringing out its special qualities. In making The Gleaners, he was important in the editing and the mix, really helping me shape the album.”

Previous ECM albums of solo bass – by Miroslav Vitous, Dave Holland, Barre Phillips – were particularly inspiring examples for Grenadier, but that’s not all. “Other instrumentalists playing solo were a big influence, such as Sonny Rollins,” he says. “I looked to them to help answer the question of how do you develop something solo over a long span with cohesion and clarity? Joe Henderson also used to play these substantial solo intros before tunes like Monk’s ‘Ask Me Now’ that were inspiring. There were other things, too, when it came to solo string playing. I’ve always loved solo cello music from Bach and beyond, and Manfred Eicher introduced me to violist Kim Kashkashian’s solo Hindemith recordings, which I fell in love with. As all those influences swirled in my head, I began thinking about a solo album conceptually, how to make it interesting over 45 minutes or so – and not just to other bass players. I experimented with various tunings and scordatura, like the 17 th – and 18t h -century violinists used, to get a full range of sounds – and that ended up giving the instrument a whole new vibration for me, a feeling of real sonic potential.”

Grenadier’s title of The Gleaners was inspired by a documentary film from 2000, The Gleaners and I , by French director Agnès Varda, who was in turn influenced by the 19t h -century painting by Millet called The Gleaners , of women harvesting in a field. “For me, as a musician, you glean things from the people you play with and the music you listen to, but it takes work to get the most out of everything, to harvest the things you can use yourself,” Grenadier says. “I’ve always felt something like that as an artistic credo – working to get to the good stuff. Even in the middle of a gig with, say, Brad – to be authentic in each moment, alive to the best of what’s happening.”

Richly conceived, beautifully played and recorded with a rare blend of warmth and detail, The Gleaners includes seven original pieces by Grenadier – starting with the deeply melodic arco opener “Oceanic.” Next comes the grooving pizzicato homage “Pettiford,” about which Grenadier says: “That track is my tribute to Oscar Pettiford, one of the first jazz bass players I that I heard, when I was a teenager. My piece is based on the chord changes of his tune ‘Laverne Walk.’ I’ve also played ‘Pettiford’ in a trio version with Fly.” The album’s other originals range from the arco lyricism of “Vineland” and “The Gleaners” to the pensive pizzicato of “Lovelair” and “Woebegone” (with the latter capped by some artfully overdubbed arco). The interpretations on The Gleaners include touchstones for Grenadier: “Another musical hero of mine is Miles Davis, for his sound and the way he thought about music, as well as the bands he put together. I love the Miles and Gil Evans version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, so including ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ is my nod to that inspiration.”

The Gleaners also includes a medley of John Coltrane’s “Compassion” and Paul Motian’s “The Owl of Cranston.” Grenadier says: “ ‘Compassion’ comes from Coltrane’s Meditations suite, an important piece of music for me. It flows into Motian’s ‘Owl of Cranston,’ which I used to play with Paul. His tunes are so melodic, but the flow of the rhythm, often out of tempo, is the thing that I love about Paul’s approach to composition and to music in general. As he might say, to play out you have to be able to play in. The great musicians I’ve played alongside – from Joe Henderson and Paul Motian to Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny – all teach the same thing: know your instrument really well, listen closely and be open to the moment and its possibilities.”

Returning to his prime influences as a bassist, Grenadier runs down those players and qualities that have meant the most to him: Oscar Pettiford (“for his clarity, melodicism, swing-to-bop values, the way he liked chamber music, too”); Scott LaFaro (“his incredible technique and his individuality – he was sui generis, like Jaco Pastorius”); Ray Brown (“such a huge beat, such clarity of sound – what he played on bass offered so much information that you had to pay attention to it”); and Charles Mingus (“enormous technical ability on the bass, along with his

incredible composing and bandleading”). Along with Charlie Haden, Dave Holland and Miroslav Vitous, Grenadier’s key bass influences also include Eddie Gomez, George Mraz and Marc Johnson. “All those players have developed a distinctive voice on the bass, with the technique to convey their ideas with real lucidity,” he says. “Obviously, Charlie was a very different player than someone like Miroslav, but they both rank as advanced speakers on their instrument. It’s about pushing yourself technically so that you can get across what you’re trying to express.”

The art of music “remains a learning experience for me, above all,” Grenadier concludes. “I’m always working on the technical aspects of my playing, but at the same time, I know that what happens onstage between musicians isn’t all about that. The level of ‘telepathic’ intuition that exists in music, especially in jazz, is a constant reminder to me of what humans are capable of, both in music and beyond. I always want to keep a bit of that mystery at play in the music, so as not to over-intellectualize the magic. That’s why I think you have to balance a studied approach to how music works with a primal, instinctual understanding of the way music feels. Having access to technique is essential for being able to communicate and express yourself musically. But, ultimately, music is about emotion. The most vital quality in making music at a heightened level is empathy, the ability to listen and to feel.”

— Bradley Bambarger