Street Date: July 28, 2023
Label: JMI Recordings
Max Gerl, a self-titled album, is a daring and venturesome solo record featuring the visionary player on both acoustic double and electric bass. This adventurous 11-track collection, which was recorded straight to 2-track tape, will be available as an LP and digitally on July 28, 2023. Produced by legendary bassist Stanley Clarke alongside associate producer Steven Mandel (The Roots, Elvis Costello), Max Gerl’s first solo enterprise is an ambitious musical work that stretches the instrument to its limits.
“My aims were to perform musically, to compose FOR the bass, and to demonstrate the breadth of sonic diversity available to this instrument,” Gerl says on his intentions behind his sophomore album. JMI Recordings founder Jake Cohn first became aware of Gerl in 2019, when he was on a recording session for the fiery drummer Mike “Blaque Dynamite” Mitchell. Cohn was so taken by the young bassist that he extended an invitation to him to record his own project for the label. The session finally came to fruition this past December, yielding spellbinding results.
Max Gerl is produced by bass legend Stanley Clarke, who has served as a musical mentor for Gerl since his move to Los Angeles in 2019. “When JMI offered the opportunity, I called Stanley first, as he is a pioneer of solo jazz double bass.” In the studio, Clarke played a hands-on role contributing to the compositions, as well as the execution. In the control room, he was especially helpful when it came to mic-ing the instrument, and the overall sound of the project. “Max is one of my favorites of all the young bass players today,” Clarke proclaims. “The most important thing to me was that I wanted to be assured that whatever Max played could be heard clearly on all listening formats. I think people will be surprised at how well Max’s performances come across sonically.”
Gerl was 16 when he first met Clarke backstage at a theater in Dallas after an impactful performance by the Stanley Clarke Band. Eventually, things came full circle when Mitchell, who is a close friend of Gerl’s, joined the band that included keyboardists Beka Gochiashvili and Cameron Graves. Gerl started playing with both of them, eventually going on to become a member of Grave’s band (he appears on his eclectic 2021 Mack Avenue release Seven). This confluence of events led to a chance meeting in a hotel lobby in 2018 during the North Sea Jazz Festival, at which Clarke extended an open invitation to the bassist to connect with him in Los Angeles. When Gerl moved there a year later, Clarke was one of his first calls. “Since then, he's been a guiding presence in terms of developing my artistry as a leader, developing as a player of the instrument, and a general mentor in all things. I truly can't imagine my life or career without him.”
One of the main pieces of advice Clarke offered was that he needed to put out his own records as soon as possible. That’s how his 2019 debut album Tbilisi, came to be. Influenced by the John Coltrane Quartet, Tbilisi featured a talented ensemble of up and coming musicians including Aaron Shaw on saxophone, Paul Cornish on piano, and the aforementioned Mike Mitchell on drums. An explosive and highly intense recording, Tbilisi was a just introduction to the bassist, who significantly ups the ante on this solo showcase.
“My central tenets for the overarching concept of this album were in place early on, the process for writing and organizing this music equally rewarding and testing. I knew that I wanted a few “head solo head” forms; I wanted to compose a piece played in a classical style with the bow; and I wanted to include a heavy dose of freely melodic bass improvisation,” Gerl comments. The end result features an amalgamation of compositions and free improvisations.
The opening track “Patience to Find the Start of the Journey’s Path” was the first composition written for the project. Working like a “bass folk song” (a term coined by Clarke), the opening theme is intended to welcome the listener to the album as the instrument supports the melody, harmony and rhythm, requiring no soloing or improvisation. “Jimmy’s House Painting” was originally written for trio before its adaptation for upright bass. “The melody is quite demanding technically, and the feel and groove came from my memories of playing with Senegalese sabar master Lamine Touré. The third track, “For Rinat”, presented Gerl’s greatest challenge on the recording. “Recently, my ear has begun to gravitate towards chamber and classical music, and consequently my greatest inspiration throughout quarantine was the incredible Russian bassist, Rinat Ibragimov, who sadly passed away as a victim of the pandemic. From the day of his passing, I knew that I wanted to pay tribute to him. This is my humble offering to a titan of the instrument,” he reflects. “Language of the Unheard” was largely composed based off of an improvisation that came in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and subsequent worldwide protests, while “Let’s Cool One” is simply one of the bassist’s favorite standards - and here he completely makes it his own.
The remaining five tracks on the album are free improvisations. Each reel of half-inch tape contained room for sixteen minutes of music, so Gerl improvised freely for a full reel on the acoustic bass, followed by a full reel with the electric bass. Afterwards, Clarke and Gerl discussed and determined the melodic ideas they enjoyed most, with those being the final cuts for the record. “My greatest obstacle lay in surrendering the idea of creating a “perfect performance.” In relinquishing an obsession with technical perfection, however, I believe that I was able to embrace a purer musicality,” Gerl shares. The resulting work is the bassist's most honest offering to date, and an intimate window into a young master at work.
For Max Gerl
JAMIE LEE RAKE
"Throughout the course of six improvisations and five compositions, Gerl makes what could easily have been a self-indulgent display of technique into an avenue for actual tunes." Check out the full review here.