While solo instrumental albums are a long-standing part of the jazz tradition, one rarely encounters albums featuring a lone double bass. Given the instrument’s frequency range and role in the rhythm section, it is relatively uncommon for a bassist to step out alone and offer an intriguing listening experience in the process, but Jorge Roeder has succeeded on El Suelo Mío, his debut solo recording.
Roeder’s an extremely talented player with musical relationships with Julian Lage, John Zorn, and Nels Cline, among many others. He maneuvers deftly between rhythmic invention and fluid melodicism and every piece here displays his absolute command of his instrument.
The album begins with the title track. “El Suelo Mío” translates as “land of mine” and according to the bassist, it is a reflection of the complicated relationship he has with his homeland of Peru. The tone is elegiac, the playing measured and spare. Roeder often establishes the harmonic center of his solo pieces with strummed chords, giving his single-note runs a structure to orbit. His melodic sensibilities really shine on this piece. This is followed by the more wistful “Chabuca Limeña.” Here, the bassist interrogates the melody in different registers, sliding in variations without skipping a beat. At times, his movements through the material are reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s Suite for Cello No. 1. His fluidity makes the improvisations feel almost composed.
Performing solo gives Roeder great flexibility in interpreting these pieces, with many of the tracks swinging between density and space without losing internal coherence. On songs such as “El Plebeyo” and “Rambler,” he is able to bookend flurries of notes with punctuated pauses to great dramatic effect. And on “Bounce,” he conveys so many ideas in the opening moments it sounds like he is playing two basses at once. Yet within this same piece, he pulls back and makes more concentrated statements as well before diving headlong back into denser moments.
While many of the numbers are written by Roeder himself, he does cover a couple songs also. He tackles the standard “I’ll Remember April” with great enthusiasm, displaying a lighthearted rhythmic dexterity that leads the melody intact. Even more intriguing is his take on Ornette Coleman‘s “Lonely Woman.” Here, he employs his bow to great effect, creating a drone on the lower-pitched strings while performing the melody on the higher ones. As the song progresses, he begins to cycle through clusters of notes, almost attaining the feel of formal minimalism before fading out.
The gorgeous production of “El Suelo Mío” must not go unmentioned. Mixed by Mark Goodell and mastered by Dan Millice, the sound is incredibly rich and powerful. The instrument is represented loudly enough to capture the listener’s attention without sacrificing any of the clarity that allows the quieter moments to captivate. The sound is a vital in capturing the double bass in a way that respects its natural frequency range but is eminently listenable.
On paper, a solo double bass recording might not sound terribly appealing to the average listener. It sounds like the kind of thing only other bassists would enjoy, but it would be a shame if this album went unnoticed. El Suelo Mío is a powerful statement, showing Jorge Roeder to be an all-around virtuoso, full of both extreme technical ability and artistic vision. Each song is a showcase on its own, but the album coheres wonderfully.