The basses were loaded again Friday night at Schoenberg Hall, UCLA, when the International Society of Bassists Convention presented another in its weeklong series of concerts.
Charlie Haden, announced as the headliner, failed to show, yet he was hardly missed, given the presence of four successive groups led by bass players whose talent at times bordered on the mind-boggling.
Andy Simpkins, long respected for his work with George Shearing and Sarah Vaughan, has it all: the technique, the conception, the intonation the phrasing. On this occasion, perhaps because of its nature, he seemed even more than usually inspired. Splendidly backed by Frank Collett on piano and John Nolan on drums, he wove his way through a blues, a ballad, a bop standard and a jazz waltz with chops-defying celerity.
Larry Steen, presented next as winner of the convention's competition, is a Berklee School of Music graduate whose ability to play a Charlie Parker line in lightning unison with the piano was an indication of his stature as a giant of the not-too-distant future.
Then came Brian Bromberg, 27, who led a quintet, playing a piccolo bass tuned an octave higher than the standard electric bass. His solo foray was phenomenal, but the presence of a second bassist and a loud drummer mitigated against a swinging result. Later, when Bromberg switched to an upright bass and the other bassists departed, his performance was one step short of manic. At times he seemed to be producing two melodies simultaneously, using three or four fingers of each hand.
Less spectacular was the final set by Rufus Reid, with Harold Land on tenor sax. Reid made intelligent use of an unamplified upright bass and demonstrated the art of the bowed bass while backing one of Land's vigorously inventive solos. But the evening was long and the duo's welcome was ultimately outworn.
Special credit is due to John Clayton, himself a virtuoso bassist and teacher, who put the bass competition together and was the articulate host of Friday's concert.