Amanda Ruzzo is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English. She’s also extremely fluent in bass guitar. A quick learner who picked up that instrument at age 12 and played professionally at age 13, Ruzza benefited from the rich cultural confluence of growing up in Brazil to a Chilean mother and Italian father. Later arriving in America on a prestigious scholarship, she took her game even higher by earning a degree in Jazz Bass Performance at the New School at NYC, and studied at Berklee as well. She’s played in the Global Noize funk jazz band with Jason Miles and DJ Logic, and an all-girl country band called Mustang Sally. She’s also a composer, arranger and producer. There isn’t much Ms. Ruzza can’t do.
Come next week, we can also add to her list of credits a record under her own name. This Is What Happened represents Ruzza’s debut album, where she gets to define her musical personality to the world, as a leader, performer and songwriter, and she shows much ability in all three areas. To help her make this record, she enlisted the help of Mauricio Zottarelli (drums/percussion), Alex Nolan, Mamiko Watanabe (Fender Rhodes), Cliff Korman (piano), Luacs Pino (saxes), Chris Stover (trombone), and David Binney (saxes). The seven songs, of which Ruzza composed five, combines the influences of jazz, fusion, Brazilian and funk, with these styles often co-existing very harmonious together. One thing that’s common throughout all the songs is that they’re never simple, straightforward tunes, most involves serpentine melodic lines that allows Ruzzo to use her dexterous talents on the bass not to just solo about but to serve the song.
Ruzza tactfully employs bop and Brazilian principles into the fusion delight “Larry And I,” underscored by the double sax threat of Binney and Pino. “Costanera,”"Gin” and “This Is What Happened.” appeal in much the same way, while more overtly Brazilian are “Pagão” and “Pimenta no Chôro” (see video of live performance above). On all these tracks, Ruzza underpins these songs with bouncy bass lines and give the keyboardists and horn players the space to shine. But if freestyle bass is your thing, she’s got that going as well, and has many tricks up her sleeve, like the ornery, fonky wah-wah solo on “Larry” and the percussive, African-styled pattern at the beginning of “Costanera.”
“Monday, 3 AM” is where she best shows a knack for infusing Brazilian stylings to create a gorgeous melody and render it with allure entirely from her bass, something that Jaco Pastorious was so good at doing, too.
Crisp, artistic and harmonious, This Is What Happened is intelligent fusion jazz by a newcomer who with her first time out is giving the veterans a lot to think about. Move over, Victor Wooten. Step aside, Tal Wilkenfeld. Make room for another electric bass wunderkind, Amanda Ruzza.
The self released This Is What Happened goes on sale April 17. Visit Amanda Ruzza’s website.