Get the subwoofers primed for this one. Three of jazz fusion's finest and most respected bassists -- Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten -- join forces for an hourlong frolic in the studio that's a fun, frisky, funky romp for the players and a potent showcase for an instrument often relegated to support status. Not here. On paper, it would seem unwieldy for three bass players, especially with the proficiency of this trio, to navigate their parts in the same song without the sound getting hopelessly cluttered. But it takes less than a minute into the opening track, which unexpectedly kicks off with full orchestration, for the concept to prove viable. One bass works the traditional low riff while the other two solo in harmony and trade licks with such ease and finesse that you wonder why someone didn't think of this collaboration earlier. Actually, someone did. Wooten came up with the idea but it took until the group worked together at the October 2006 Bass Player Live! event in N.Y.C. (where Clarke won the Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award) for it to be discussed as a reality with the other two. Clarke was no stranger to playing with his fellow bottom dwellers, as he proved on his Night School DVD where he joined with about ten other bassists for an extended version of "School Days." Still, it's amazing how well these guys navigate their strummed, plucked, and thumped parts around each other without clashing. Horns, drums, loops, and keyboards (from guests Chick Corea and George Duke as well as Miller) flesh out the upper registers while Miller's clean, unfussy production also keeps things in order. Acoustic bowed bass and strings on "Milano" shift the sound away from the more rhythmic approach naturally favored on the majority of the tracks. The three amigos take on a Spanish spaghetti Western feel for "Los Tres Hermanos," a refreshing changeup that features some of the disc's most nimble playing and its prettiest melody. Some tunes will be familiar to jazz fans. "Tutu" was written by Miller for Miles Davis and Clarke's "Quiet Afternoon" gets referenced, as does his "Silly Putty," but these versions are quite different than the originals. All three musicians weave their lines together on the lovely ballad "Lil' Victa," with Clarke's high end sounding enough like a guitar to hold down the strong melodic line. The closing "Grits" is a hot slab of funky jazz that gives each a chance to solo over a sparse beat. Although their styles are relatively distinct, it would have been helpful if the liner notes described who was playing which part, especially for newcomers. Otherwise, this will thrill fusion fans -- and for bassists it's nothing less than a master class on the instrument from a handful of its most accomplished, eclectic, and veteran practitioners.
by Hal Horowitz