In the hands of a master, the bass can become as commanding an instrument in jazz as any horn or keyboard. Yet mastery is not just a case of conspicuous technical prowess. What makes a bassist truly special is a rare combination of imagination, taste and empathy -- all mated with monster chops. Tom Kennedy, an in-demand player who has recorded or performed with a vast range of artists including Michael Brecker in Steps Ahead, Tania Maria, Al DiMeola, Mike Stern, David Sanborn, Joe Sample, and Lee Ritenour, among others, is just such an inspiring bassist.
An all-star event, Just Play features drummer Dave Weckl, with whom Kennedy has a long friendship and recording history; guitarists Mike Stern and Lee Ritenour; pianist Renee Rosnes, tenor saxophonists George Garzone and Steve Wirts, trombonist John Allred, and trumpeter Tim Hagans.
Recorded in one day at the legendary Nola Studios in NYC, with most of the tunes captured on the first take, Kennedy's fourth CD as a leader is a testament to the prowess and virtuosity of all the musicians involved. The album is also a testament to the transformative power that occurs when superior players find themselves in a shared comfort zone. Goading each other to new heights on classic material that can bring out the best in a committed improviser, the song standards "What is this Thing Called Love" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," as well as such jazz standards as "Airegin" (complete with a wailing solo by Garzone), "Moanin'" (a slow and soulful rendition featuring Ritenour), "In a Sentimental Mood," Lee Morgan's "Ceora" and Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" inspire both snapping solos and deeply in-the-pocket support by the rhythm section. Throughout, Kennedy acts as both the rock-solid foundation on which the action rides and, when he steps into the spotlight, an imposing soloist.
As Thomas Burns, President of Capri Records states, "I first worked with Tom Kennedy on Ken Peplowski's In Search ofŠ recording. I was astounded with his playing and his ability to link up with all the other cats on the date. Most bassists I've heard emulate another's style. But while Tom is deeply rooted in the tradition of legendary bassists like Ray Brown and Paul Chambers, he solos more like a horn player."
A personal project that tellingly exhibits the trust and creative interaction that Kennedy enjoys with his A-list musician friends, Just Play also speaks of the St. Louis native's deep respect for his brother Ray, with whom Kennedy has previously recorded. "I've dedicated this recording to my brother for so many reasons. He has always been such an inspiration to me, as a phenomenal pianist, composer and arranger, and even more, through his incredible spirit of giving. Music has always been such a sharing, nurturing experience between Ray and anyone he performed with. The beauty of what music really is remains in his soul to this day, despite his inability to perform after the onset of multiple sclerosis in 2008. Ray Kennedy is a true hero to me and everyone else having the good fortune to share in his music."
Just Play makes it obvious that Tom Kennedy shares with his brother - and each of the excellent players who enliven the project -- a similar understanding of the essence of music. Beauty and excitement are in plain sight -- just play the album and hear it for yourself.