Aaron Germain – Chance (2013)

In twenty years as a bass player who’s equally proficient on both the standup and electric, Aaron Germain has played in bands performing virtually every kind of music from every corner of the world, including calypso, jazz, blues, reggae, Brazilian forro, Afro-Cuban music and fusion. Originally form the Northeast, Germain has become a fixture in the San Francisco bay area scene, having played for jazz luminaries on both coasts far too many to mention (we took notice of his bass contributions on a recent release by Bay Area guitarist David Haskell).

It’s only recently that Germain has begun to make his records as a leader; following up on his 2010 debut Before You Go, he now has added Chance to his nascent catalog.

Chance is widely diverse in styles, just as one should expect from someone of Germain’s background. But “diverse” alone doesn’t make it good, and the ace bassist goes plenty of distance to make it divergent yet lucid. A leader far more deft at leading than his thin discography would suggest, he gets the most out of his bandmates, fully allowing their own voices come through. He balances that out nicely with making his bass – whether a sturdy old standup or a state-of-the-art six string plugged-in model – the main proponent of every track.

One sure way to make a record diverse in a creative way is to enlist Vietnamese-French guitar marvel Nguyên Lê, whose mastery of Far East and West music forms is in his DNA. Listen to the microtones he slips into “Antes de Ir,” an ostensibly rock fusion song but with a slight East Asian flavor accentuated by Mary Fettig’s flute, and culminating in a blazing drum explosion by Deszon X. Claiborne. Another novel way Indochina finds its way into First World fusion is on “Nhung Bac Thang,” where a marimba-like Vietnamese instrument Dàn T’rung (played by Van-Anh Vo) syncs with Lê’s guitar on slippery lines, almost like Frank Zappa attempting a Brazilian tune. Frank Martin on piano and Lê later exchange solos that are stylish in their own ways as the mood gets heavier.

Germain, though, is an improviser every bit as splashy as his special guest guitarist. He leads “Bunk Bread,” a bonafide rocker, with a kinky, muscular ostinato while Lê alternately unions with his electric bass and Martin’s B-3 organ; Germain is Stanley Clarke quick on his solo.

Speaking of Clarke, “Already Not Yet” at times acts like a leftover track from Romantic Warrior and in other aspects an outtake from Thrust, pulling together the best elements of Return To Forever and the Headhunters. This time, Germain’s sumptuous lines are something out of Jimmy Haslip’s playbook. Germain plays the rubbery main figure on “Ginger Skin” similar to a rhythm guitar, and goes up high and melodic on his bass solo.

Already proving he’s got great range, Germain reveals more when he reaches out for an acoustic bass. He interacts well with Martin’s piano on straight-jazz ballad “Chikurin” and “Ringo Oiwake” has this memorable, pretty strain delivered sensitively by Martin, again on piano, and Germain.

Applying his vast bass skills to original material that’s both challenging and bracing, Germain made a damned near flawless fusion album that conjures up what was so great about fusion back in the day, but injected with fresh ideas. He took some chances on Chance, and they paid off each time.

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Chance is now on sale, by Origin Records. Visit Aaron Germain’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.