I first encountered the savvy of Peter Brendler’s bass when sizing up Jon Irabagon’s wild, seventy-eight minute improvisation ride, Foxy (2010). As the guy placed in between Irabagon’s sax and Barry Altschul’s drums, they wouldn’t have been able to pull this off if not for Brendler’s heroics keeping the tune firmly centered while the other two took endless excursions outside of it.
Brendler’s got a lot of other noteworthy sideman appearances (including an album co-led with guitar legend John Abercrombie just last year), but not nearly enough as the sole leader, because his debut Outside the Line(April 15, 2104, Posi-Tone Records) brings forward the daring and elasticity found in much of his session work. That, and some imaginative composing/interpretations to boot.
For his first album, the bassist goes without a piano, guitar or any other chordal instrument, creating more space that his bass can occupy. He’s put a tenor sax (Rich Perry) and trumpet (Peter Evans) in front of him and Vinnie Sperrazza’s drums alongside his acoustic bass.
Outside the Line implies “outside jazz,” but aside from the relatively brief free jazz exercise “Openhanded,” the album doesn’t explicitly venture into the abyss for more than a segment within a song (such as, the fantastic, well-attuned four-way improvisation found on “Indelible Mark”). This isn’t to state that there aren’t chances being taken all over the LP, because there’s plenty of that going on.
It gets going right away with a succinct, impish rendering of Chet Baker’s “Freeway.” Evans is on a muted trumpet playing a high-pitched contrast to Perry’s tenor. Both seem to be keenly aware that they have a short time to make an impression and make the most of it, with great back and forth between the two. Brendler’s got the underlying harmony locked down so well you don’t even notice the missing piano, and that’s how it goes for the rest of the record.
Brendler’s original “Lawn Darts” is in the classic style bop theme but it wobbles and yet never falls down. The rhythm section vacillates effortlessly between blues walk and swing, giving the horns a shifting platform to operate on, and they respond vigorously to the challenge. Brendler often comes up with bass figures that set the groundwork for the development of a song, and “Drop The Mittens” is one a tune built on his funky repeating figure. Sperrazza’s rhythm is festive even as the song is in a dark key. Well into the performance, Brendler unexpectedly switches over to a new figure to signal the changing of the soloing duties from Perry to Evans and the song slows down for a coda composed of yet another motif.
“Una Mas Bonita” is an Ornette Coleman cover that Brendler introduces on his own, setting down the guideposts for the horn players. Just as Evans takes over for Perry, the song is off to the races and the trumpeters tears off lightning fast runs until the song returns its unhurried pace. Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” has that iconic blues vamp that is so jazzy, it makes you wonder why this song isn’t covered more by the jazz community. Evans undertakes a vulnerable lyrical lead, and Perry harmonizes with Brendler until it’s time for him to play his more soulful solo.
By at once going inside and outside, as well as respecting tradition and racing toward the frontier, Peter Brendler makes his long overdue first album well worth waiting for.