Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires: Second Sight (ECM 1351)

 

Marc Johnson
Second Sight

Marc Johnson bass
Bill Frisell guitar
John Scofield guitar
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded March 1987 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This sophomore effort from Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires comes nowhere near the octane levels of the project’s wild self-titled debut. This doesn’t mean, however, that Second Sight is no less enthralling. Its strength lies in its personnel. Guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield seem so well made for each other that, were they not split between the left and right channels, respectively, they might as well be thought of as some bizarre 12-stringed chunk of genius. How can we, for instance, not be moved by the sentiment of “Small Hands” and the resonant eddies of “Sweet Soul”? The latter, with its touch of Pat Metheny brightness, is especially moving. And let us not bypass the unassuming opener, “Crossing The Corpus Callosum.” Here the guitars dance on edge over the rolling hills of Peter Erskine’s drums and Johnson’s bass. The wealth of extended textures opens vista upon vista of possibility. Frisell is downright glowing in “1951,” which might as well have been an outtake from Naked City’s Radio. A dreamy slice of nostalgia pie if there ever was one, it comes served piping hot with a dollop of electric ice cream to boot. The solos are three-dimensional.

Lest we think this is all too ponderous, Scofield livens the proceedings with an invigorating twofer. The Richard Thompon-esque rhythm guitar in “Twister” is the set’s most spirited. Frisell and Scofield add to each other’s fire as they unabashedly scale the diminished seventh ladder (think Beatles), splitting off into the groovier weave of “Thrill Seekers.” Scofield rules with his solo here, while Frisell winds some of his most insectile threads in the background before slingshotting stardust back through the atmosphere. The band recedes for a fragile solo from Johnson before playing out on the vamp. The jauntiness of this number is superbly contrasted by “Prayer Beads,” a monologue from Johnson, who closes the door with “Hymn For Her.” This last is a dream within a dream. It feels like watching life through a veil of trickling water and finding that hope is already beside you, that its forgiving melodies flow both into and from the heart.

A note on the cover: the helicopter is a foil. Without it, the beach is just a beach. With it, the beach begs to be appreciated.

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