Low Blow

Victor Bailey

Zebra Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Jazz is an interesting animal to listen to. Even when it transmogrifies into the weaker version known as new age, it can often still move the listener in ways they never thought possible. Without you even realizing it, you'll find your foot tapping and your head bobbing in beat with the music.

In the case of bassist Victor Bailey, he seems to walk the line between hard-core jazz and new age on his release Low Blow. By summoning the ghost of Jaco Pastorius, he pays tribute to some of the names who made jazz more mainstream in the '70s, all the while challenging the listener with a combination of smoother, new age-sounding songs with some good old fashioned be-bop. It takes a little bit of adjusting to get used to, but Bailey wins you over in the end, as if this was his plan all along.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Bailey's tribute to Pastorius and the late bassist's former group Weather Report, "Do You Know Me / Continuum," is the only vocal track on Low Blow - and it reminds me the most of some of Frank Zappa's work. Occasionally, Zappa would go into an unstructured vocal where the guitar line would mimic exactly what Zappa was singing. The same goes for Bailey and his bass line on this track - and it's an amazing effect no matter whose vocal you're listening to. Pastorius should be smiling somewhere about this song. (It's interesting to note that "Continuum" is actually a Pastorius composition that Bailey has adapted and transcribed - further serving as testimony to Pastorius's unheralded genius on the bass guitar.)

But Bailey seems to be a restless musical soul on Low Blow. One minute, he's laying out a nice, smooth rhythm as on the title track; the next minute, he's got you working through a glorious beat as on "Grahan Cracker"; the next, he's running you through a powerful ballad like "She Left Me". The constant switching of gears might turn some people off, but I'd rather look at it as Bailey's challenging the listener to keep up with him. In the end, it's kind of an interesting race to run.

Not everything works quite as well, though. Tracks like "Sweet Tooth" and "Knee-Jerk Reaction" are decent enough tracks, but they just don't seem to be cut from the same mold as the exceptional songs on Low Blow came from. This isn't to say that these tracks aren't worth your time; indeed, the whole album is one you'll want to curl up in front of the fire with. But there is a difference in the two levels of tracks, and you'll be able to notice when the momentum is shifting.

Bailey's backing band is a powerful assembly of some of the genre's best musicians, including drummer Omar Hakim and saxophonists Bill Evans and Kenny Garrett. It's interesting to note that Bailey often steps back into the shadows and lets the other members of the band bask in the spotlight, though he allows enough time to highlight his own talents on the bass.

Low Blow is the kind of disc that could win over a lot of people to the world of jazz, and Bailey skillfully eases people from the more friendly "smooth" jazz to something with a little more bite - and back again. It's an enjoyable disc that is well worth checking out.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Zebra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.