Electric bassist Dan Dean might not be well known by general jazz fans but he has extensive credits as a sideman for Ernie Watts, Diane Schuur and others; has contributed to television and film music; and is a music educator and an author of instruction books. Other artists, however, regard him with respect and four accomplished keyboardists are involved in Dean's latest outing, 251, a series of bass/keyboard duets.
The album title alludes to an important harmonic pattern, 2-5-1, that is the root tone for many songs and the eleven-track excursion nods to the roots of jazz, with renditions of standards, jazz classics and more, including material by Gershwin, Herbie Hancock, James Brown and Thelonious Monk.
Although there have been other bass/keyboard duets they still remain infrequent. Dean provides several moods on his 78-minute album and teams up with George Duke on two tunes, works on four pieces with Hammond B3 organist Larry Goldings, plays on three cuts with pianist Kenny Werner and performs on two other songs with Gil Goldstein, who adds piano and accordion.
One of the highlights is hearing Duke on grand piano, stepping away from his usual forays with electric keyboards. Duke and Dean do a funk-fried reading of Duke's "It's On," which has a catchy riff and a gospel shading. Duke fans may recognize the tune from Duke's 1998 release After Hours, but on this setting Dean and Duke reinterpret the selection with a stronger blues feel. Duke's skills are even more notable on a potent and sincere take of "Stella by Starlight." As Duke spins out harmonic comps and improvisations, Dean furnishes a loose walking bass line with deep vibrato.
However, for fervent funk Goldings and Dean cannot be beat. The twosome echo Ray Charles as well as a bit of Jimmy Smith during a lengthy cruise through "Georgia on My Mind," and what a ride it turns out to be. While listeners could conceivably conjure the picking of peaches Dean picks out some delicious bass lines as Goldings reaps some fluent and witty organ runs. Things get greasier on James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)," where the pair swings with a mix of grooving fusion and boogaloo. Dean displays some Stanley Clarke-esque rhythmic vamps that pop and snap.
The project's most striking combination comes during "Lover Man," with Dean accompanying Goldstein's accordion. During the extended version the two continually switch tempos, giving the oft-covered composition an unrestricted almost experimental nature: accenting the number's curious character, the spontaneous rhythm is never resolved.
Dean is an exceptionally articulate and resourceful electric bassist and throughout 251 he proves to be both a supportive role model as well as a soloist who deserves better recognition.