Before the tech revolution that has ushered in an era of unprecedented growth and global recognition, the city of Seattle was a bit of an outpost in the world of jazz. Since the 1920s, the city has enjoyed a vibrant and innovative jazz scene, often resulting in local musicians backing major international touring artists. The emerald city has spawned such renowned jazz icons as Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Larry Coryell and Ernestine Anderson as well.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, bassist Chuck Deardorf was often on call to perform with touring artists at the city's vaunted jazz spots, Parnell's and Jazz Alley. Major artists such as Kenny Burrell, Chet Baker, Larry Coryell, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson would be the fortunate recipients of his solid sense of time, marvelous articulation, and innovative solo work.
Deardorf was sequestered as a visible, first-call sideman. He was also an educator at the esteemed Cornish College of the Arts. It would be 2011 before he released a solo recording, the wide-ranging effort, Tranparence (Origin, 2011). The album explored the many styles, and personal musical relationships he had encountered over 35 years, resulting in an admirable, yet multi-focused effort.
On his latest release, Perception (Origin, 2019), Deardorf pares things down more to the stark essentials of his creative essence, producing a recording of extraordinary musicianship, and eloquence.
"One of the differences with this record is that I wanted to make it just a blowing record. We did a couple takes of each tune, I didn't overdub any solos. I wanted the energy of playing live. I wanted it to be open, here's some tunes that I really like. I didn't have them heavily arranged. I had some ideas, we kicked them around, and we just played them," says Deardorf.
For five tracks, Deardorf employs a quartet of long time musical compatriots. Pianist Dawn Clement brings her grinding, physical style, for what may be her finest recorded solo work to date. Saxophonist Hans Teuber lends his unique, dynamic voice, and drummer Matt Wilson is the tie that binds with his free-flowing, ardent positivity.
In reference to this quartet, Deardorf states, "Matt just brings this special vibe to whatever he does. Their openness, they don't play preconceived stuff. Certain musicians tend to do things they tend to do, and that's great, but this one I wanted to be more unpredictable. Here's a template, here's the head, let's blow and see what happens. I like what happened."
Through Kenny Barron's waltz time masterpiece, "Lullaby," and a pair of Monk classics, "Pannonica," and "Monk's Blues," the quartet demonstrates what years of intimate creative interaction can provide in terms of chemistry, and artistic vision.
Deardorf is featured on acoustic bass guitar on Keith Jarrett.'s "Le Mistral," the dynamic peak of the album, providing an almost telepathic resonance to Jarrett's early classic. The piece which was originally recorded on the quartet album Treasure Island (Impulse,1974), featured saxophonist Dewey Redman, with whom one can draw parallel conclusions with Teuber. Jarrett's bassist Charlie Haden was indeed a major influence on Deardorf as well, with his streamlined melodic approach.
"Charlie Haden was a huge influence for me because I was listening to all these people who were spitting out all these notes, then all of a sudden here is someone playing very simply. But it was beautiful and the sound was just unbelievable. It was like the eye of the hurricane," he recalls.
Three tunes on the record include pianist Marc Seales, who like Deardorf has been a first call Seattle musician as a leader, as well as a sideman for touring artists. Portland based drummer Gary Hobbs, a long-time Deardorf collaborator joins, along with Seattle trumpeter Thomas Marriott on flugelhorn.
Marriott's trademark tonality reigns on Jack DeJohnette's "Silver Hollow." His beautiful melodic sense weaves through the piece eloquently rendered harmonically by Deardorf, Seales and Hobbs. Marriott, known prominently for his eleven releases on Origin Records, gives the listener just enough to wish he had been featured more prominently on the record.
Deardorf, Seales and Hobbs explore the art of the trio for Steve Swallow's "Falling Grace," and Steve Winwood's Blind Faith classic, "Can't Find My Way Home." Deardorf gives a nod to Swallow by switching to fretless electric for the Swallow standard, all the while maintaining his identifiable original sound and approach.
" I came at it from electric before upright, whereas most tend to add electric and start with upright. I just see it as two different sides, just different tools. It opens things up, and it depends on the music. What does the music need?," he remarks
Deardorf returns to acoustic bass for "Can't Find My Way Home," in a way an homage to the era in which all three members of the trio came of age musically. The haunting melody is gracefully rendered by Deardorf on upright, and supported vibrantly by Seales and Hobbs.
While Deardorf surrounds himself with superb musicians on Perception, it must be stated that he is the primary voice, the X-factor that unites the converging voices at large. He is a valued member of any rhythm section, but allows his sound to sing on melody statements, and well articulated solos. The rest of the world is quickly discovering the unique splendor of the city of Seattle. With that, one hopes, will come recognition of its long-time creative jazz scene. Perception would be a good place to start.