Gerald Veasley is a fixture among contemporary Philadelphia musicians, as well as a talented electric bassist whose recording and band credits include Joe Zawinul’s band, saxophonist Odean Pope, and violinist John Blake. I mention his hometown connection because At the Jazz Base! is the documentation of a local Philly band making a local gig at Veasley’s own club in a Sheraton hotel in Reading, PA late last year. This is not an all-star group or an attempt to scale artistic mountains—it’s a funky local band entertaining the folks who want to get down in the moment.
In short, this is a good-time band with few pretensions and a local-kid-makes-good earnestness. Is this a kind of soft-fusion smooth jazz? Perhaps, but it comes off without nearly the cheesy schmaltz of most studio discs by the average smoover. Rather, this music comes off as a funk junky’s instrumental workout, closer in tone to an urban jam-band or DC go-go outfit than to an over-permed and preened LA gang of half-hearted Boney James clones.
C’mon—Philly in the house! Remember, Philadelphia is just about ground zero for this kind of thing. Grover Washington, Jr. was Philly all the way, and his “urban jazz” was the model for so much of the schmutz that followed it. Philly soul has always combined silky and funky in the right proportions, so it’s no surprise to find it a Mecca for neo-soul (Jill Scott) and feet-to-the-group hip-hop (The Roots). This is the topsoil that Gerald Veasley’s band grows from—a garden where tepid fake-funk just won’t make the cut.
And so Veasley’s live set is slick, sure—soprano saxophones snake and organs lay out creamy harmonies—but it’s also genuinely funky. Drummer Eric Greene locks in with Pablo Batista’s congas and percussion on every track. And Veasley is less a Jaco Pastorius wannabe than a James Jamerson acolyte. The rumble these guys create on the bottom is genuinely fun—not the poor man’s Maceo or some thumb-popped Wes Montgomery, but its own funky thang altogether.
So a tune like “Deeper” features a slow go-go groove with tenor and six-string bass playing in unison. Veasley plays lines that sound like limber electric guitar in sync with the keyboard, then he slides down to his lowest note like a bathysphere. On “Valdez in the Country”, GV strums an opening figure before joining the soprano for a catchy melody that rides over a B3 wash. Veasley doesn’t sound like he is pointlessly showing off his high notes because he plays these melodies so cleanly and so accurately in the mix. On “Celebrating Sipho”, Veasley plays a rumbling lead in a Latin vein with a dash of island spice. The drummers get some on a well-integrated percussion breakdown before one of the album’s few genuine “bass solos”—which is unusually melodic and smiling.
At the Jazz Base! gives the strong impression that it was made by musicians having a great time. And maybe because it is a highly local affair, it is not infused with the aromas of radio format, money, and compromise. To hear the Veasley band, you’d guess that they would know what compromising meant, as they give so much genuine soul to this affair. Which doesn’t make this a memorable record or a strikingly original disc, just a fun time for an evening out, a place to hear a good band enjoy itself.
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