Album Review – Nathan East “Reverence”
I have particular reverence for the producers and artists that can record an album centered around the bass guitar, and Nathan East’s latest solo release, aptly titled “Reverence”, is no exception. Whether Nathan is playing the acoustic double bass, a fretless electric, or even his signature 6 string, his playing cuts through all of the instrumentation while still remaining part of the foundation for the others existence.
Production aside though, the real beauty of this album shows itself in the many styles of Nathan East and how he can stand out on each track even when he is not soloing. It is how he interacts with the other instruments, sometimes playing in unison, sometimes a call and response, and sometimes even harmonizing their lines, Nathan truly explores the boundaries the bass guitar can push in a full band setting.
A Journey through “Reverence”
The first track on this album is called “Love’s Holiday” and uses a smooth jazz style to prepare the listener for an album where your ear is always going to be looking for the bass guitar.
But just before you get too relaxed in that vibe, the album launches into the lively groove of Lifecycle where Nathan is unquestionably the leader of the group while digging into the strong influence he has taken from the era of funk and disco.
Serpentine is one of my stand out tracks from the album. It begins with a groove reminiscent of blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” complete with the horn section driving the lines. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that with that background, you immediately hear the unmistakeable riffs of Eric Clapton, a longtime collaborator of Nathan East, on lead guitar.
Fast forward to the 3:40 mark on this track and it suddenly sounds like the drum riff from “In the Air Tonight”. By no coincidence, it is not only Phil Collins holding the sticks but it is the same kit he used on that original recording that give it it’s immediately recognizable tone.
The track ends with with a Michael Jackson style vocal arrangement circa Bad, which once again, is the era in which Nathan East was collaborating with him. This is absolutely a track you do not want to miss and may need to listen to a few times before truly appreciating its grandiosity.
My next stand out track is Feels Like Home in which Nathan reminds us of his ability to perfectly round out a roster of accompanying musicians without ever treading on the solo instrument or vocal. In this case, it is the sweet vocals of Yolanda Adams in a very soothing, gospel-driven performance.
Although it was not one of my standout tracks, it would be wrong not to mention Nathan’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. It is worth noting that Nathan covered Sir Duke on his first solo album. (Any guesses for which Stevie Wonder cover will be on his next solo album?)
The Mood I’m In is another one of the absolute standout tracks. In this recording, Nathan adds his unique bass touch by finishing the singers thoughts. I can only assume he is playing a double bass, reminiscent of his album with Bob James “The New Cool” from 2015. He then brings out the electric to take a solo which not only showcases his own ability to play lead but also in how he integrates with the horn parts. Check out the octaves he plays at 3:50 followed by the purely natural reaction of who I assume to be the songs co-writer Tom Keane exclaiming “Play it Nate!”
Pasan is the albums experimental track. Nathan plays with layer upon layer of music, similar to the track Sterling from the latest Fourplay album “Silver”. While I would love to see him recreate this track in a live setting, it is important to remember the talent involved with being a recording artist and this track proves that Nathan has that ability as well.
The album ends with a short instrumental that reminded me of the intro to Chick Corea’s “Spain”. The bass leads a few other instruments on a very expressive and deep journey that bids farewell to the listener in a track so aptly titled Until We Meet Again.
I admittedly have a biased view given my long history with Nathan East both on recording and in a live setting but I honestly consider this album to be one of the most accessible while instrumentally intricate works Nathan has ever done. It combines the jazziness of Fourplay, the rock of Eric Clapton, the arrangements of Toto and even the depth of Phil Collins all told through the eyes of a bassist. There could be no better title for this album than Reverence.