Bassist Chuck Deardorf has been a yeoman on the Seattle jazz scene for more than 25 years.
His muscular sound and Gibraltar-like time have been heard locally behind everyone from Abbey Lincoln and Chet Baker to Art Farmer and Mark Murphy. After spending a career in the shadows, Deardorf finally has stepped into the spotlight with an album under his own name.
Well, half-under, anyway. Ever the support player, Deardorf shares leadership with guitarist Dave Peterson on his fine debut disc, "Portal" (Origin), and gives cover credit to his guest, New York pianist George Cables, too. The Deardorf/Peterson Quartet is rounded out by drummer John Bishop and saxophonist Hans Teuber.
"We had all these tunes Dave and I played together over the years, and we thought it was high time to get them recorded," Deardorf explained. "I'd thought about doing it for years, but the change came when I saw John Bishop's record company (Origin) take off."
Bishop started Origin in 1997 to design and distribute self-produced albums by regional and other artists.
Deardorf and Peterson both teach at Cornish College and came up in Seattle in the late '70s and early '80s, back when clubs like Parnell's and the old Jazz Alley in the University District had work for local sidemen.
"That was like graduate school," recalled Deardorf. "I got to work with Kenny Barron, Kenny Burrell, Joe Williams, Kirk Lightsey, James Williams. It was the right place at the right time. When jazz came back enough that the New York people were able to tour with their own groups, it ended."
Originally from Minnesota, Deardorf had been studying music at The Evergreen State College (though he taught himself bass). Everett-bred Peterson was a recent graduate from Western Washington University. They hit it off immediately.
"I liked his sound," recalled the bassist, whose influences include Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Ron Carter and Miroslav Vitous. "His ideas were always fresh, toward early Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, that ECM school, but never just that pastel stuff, always with an undercurrent of blues, which is where I like to live."
The mix of visionary mist and blue-collar grit Deardorf describes is distinctively Northwest and was defined, in part, by his generation. "Portal" offers a lovely voyage through that territory, underscored metaphorically by the cover images - the dreamy grand piazza of Siena, Italy, on the front, and a plain doorway in working class Alfama, the old quarter of Lisbon, Portugal, on the back.
"It's a kind of portal into the music world," said the bassist, who turned 50 when the album came out in April, "a personal portal, as well," he added. "That's a good theme."
The disc highlights the sumptuous compositions of Peterson, including the title track, a sinuous line graced with the guitarist's warm glow. "That's the Deal," a vamping blues, features Cables on Fender Rhodes (keyboard). "Rhythm Tune," a catchy line based on the harmony of George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," gives saxophonist Teuber a nice opening to blow. "Crazy Heart" and "Song For Lee," the latter written for Peterson's wife, are gorgeous ballads. A solo track showcases Deardorf's bright ideas, supple phrasing, tough technique and springy sound.
"Portal" is getting airplay around the country, particularly on local jazz stations, and has received some nice reviews.
"Nobody's bought any Lamborghinis yet," cracked the bassist, "but it seems to be doing OK."