On the Upside
The talented musicians in San Francisco’s Bay Area never cease to amaze in their versatility across so many genres whether it be blues, soul, R&B, jazz, or Latin. We’ve heard these cross-pollinations on albums from David K. Mathews, Roy Obeido, and Bill Ortiz, among others. Now the ridiculously busy touring bassist Dewayne Pate adds to this group with his first solo album in nearly 15 years, that features many of the same musicians as on aforementioned with some new names as well. Like those artists, Pate has performed in many contexts, backing Arturo Sandoval, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs and Maria Muldaur; yet most prominently Tower of Power and Robben Ford. It’s the latter two he most heavily draws from on this eclectic, purposely uneven potpourri of soulful and jazz fusion sounds. As depicted on the cover, Pate’s six string bass alone should provide some hints of where he’s headed.
Among Pate’s stellar cast are, as stated, familiar names such as guitarist Ray Obiedo (who adds rhythm guitar to “Iceman”) and drummer Dennis Chambers, a driver on the set’s two true jazz fusion pieces., Tower of Power and blues fans will enjoy the fiery take on Albert Collins’ “Iceman” with Chris Cain wielding his slashing axe as soul man Tony Lindsay takes the mic and tenorist Norbert Stachel blows mightily. There are a staggering 25 musicians in the credits, including Robben Ford, David K. Mathews, and Yellowjackets alumnus, saxophonist Marc Russo.
Pate opens with his original, “4 the 5 of It, “ as you guessed in 5/5 time, the hard driving fusion features Chambers on the kit and Stachel on soprano. The other Pate originals are the soothing ballad, “Ellen,” which features tasty guitar from Stef Burns, the Oliver Nelson inspired “Oliver’s Twist” where Pate’s propulsive bass is simply monstrous, and shuffling “Blues Ala Monmouth,” which features the piercing guitar of Robben Ford, a robust horn section, with David K. Mathews on B3 and Kevin Hays on drums. Russo delivers a burning alto solo. The title track is a fusion piece driven by the likely suspects – Chambers, Stachel, and Mathews that moves unpredictably through several tempo and mood swings, some rollicking and others of calming introspection.
Pate transforms Russell Ferrante’s (of the Yellowjackets) funky “Imperial Strut,” into an Afro-Cuban style in 6/8 time. It’s arguably the set’s most intriguing track with Stachel dazzling on flute while Mathews delivers on both piano and Rhodes and Juan Luis Perez weighs in with an African chant over bubbling percussion, followed by Ford’s poignant guitar solo.
As he proved with “Ellen” Pate can create delicate moments to as he does with the meditative take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” sung gorgeously by Amikaeyla Gaston, who proves she’s no one trick pony by bringing charming passion to the closer, Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” accompanied only by Pate’s rich bass and subtle conga playing of Karl Perazzo, a long-time Santana member.
On one hand, there are those who will argue that Pate’s effort lacks cohesion but others will soak in his versatility and virtuosity, especially those who recall the Golden Era of FM radio where many hosts applied a similar genre blurring approach. However, none will debate the superb musicianship that Pate and his assembled musicians bring to this effort.
- Jim Hynes
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