As a lead instrument in jazz, the acoustic bass was in many ways liberated by Paul Chambers, and paved the way for many others to follow. Though Pops Foster, Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown also deserve credit, Chambers was allowed to put his bass on top, become a leader in his own right, and play lead melodies with a clear, ringing, well enunciated tone. 1st Bassman is anchored by rising stars from Detroit such as Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, and adopted (from Pittsburgh) car city resident Chambers, with trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, pianist Wynton Kelly, and drummer Lex Humphries evenly balancing the session. Interestingly enough, it was recorded not in New York or the Motor City, but Chicago. Lateef wrote all of the material, save for Cannonball Adderley's slow jam "Who's Blues?" which was included only on the CD re-release. The emphasis on the compositions of Lateef all display a spare construct, rearing the horns to a marginal level except for solos, allowing Chambers to take care of business and control the shaping of the melodies, with little unison play involved. The small horn inserts of "Melody" give sway to the big bass strut of Chambers, with solos from Turrentine's stoic trumpet, Lateef's advanced tenor, and Fuller's wanton but mushy trombone included. "Bass Region" is even more spare, a one note horn punctuation setting up lengthy solos. The slightly dour post-bopper "Retrogress" gives Kelly's piano his due diligence, "Mopp Shoe Blues" completely offers Chambers his freedom to work out, and the ballad "Blessed" features the arco bowed bass of the leader in a mournful mood, brightened up by the effervescent and hopeful flute of the brilliant Lateef. This CD and its companion piece Go complement the preceding Blue Note sessions, comprising a small but potent body of work that few bassists have produced in modern jazz. If you are a student or lover of jazz bass, the complete Paul Chambers Vee Jay sessions, of which this is one, belongs in your home.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos