Don’t pop this record in expecting the usual play by play of a typical straight-ahead feature. Bay Area bassist Fred Randolph put together a faster-paced strategy that leaves the listener on the edge of his seat, dying for the next salsa on Song Without Singing (his Creative Spirit Records).
At night, Randolph is one of the hottest tickets in town. He’s traded musical banter with Kenny Washington, Akira Tana, Sandy Cressman, Maria Muldaur, and Matt Clark. He’s also contributed as a member in good standing to the Melanthium Ensemble, Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, and Orquesta Dharma, as well as led his own Quintet with pianist Clark, trumpeter Erik Jekabson, tenor Rob Roth, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte.
But during the day, Randolph is a mild-mannered high school music teacher in Oakland, a seven-year gig. “I stay busy as a player, even during the school year,” Randolph explained in a press release, dated August 5, 2015. “It’s about three nights a week. It’s hard, but I’ve been out there playing music for years and years, so I said that if I’m going to take a full-time job, I’m not gonna stop. Some days it’s tough, but I’m dedicated to staying very active as a player. I enjoy it.”
Born in Honolulu, Randolph’s enjoyment shines through in these 11 busty, boisterous songs, loud and clear and somehow symphonic. Ten of those songs on his third album are Fred Randolph originals. The one cover isn’t typical, Sting’s slow-moving “King Of Pain.” Even when Randolph hovers over the dissecting, intersecting lines of piano and horns — on acoustic, fretted and fretless electric bass — he’s quite happy to do so, raising this downward dog into a spiraled, open house.
Randolph’s Quintet and nine additional musicians make up the orchestra. All told, he boasts two pianists, two saxophonists, one trumpeter, also on flugelhorn, three drummers, two percussionists, an accordion player named Rob Reich, electric guitarist Matthew Heulitt, and vocalist Sandy Cressman on “Pelo Mar.”
The gamut of styles without even trying too hard is impressive enough: The Hawaii-inspired, wordless Brazilian samba “Pelo Mar,” the constant orchestral fade of “Hypnology,” with Randolph’s bass worked in, the title track’s unctuous 6/4 Latin number inspired by Malian vocalist Salif Keita, Alan Hall’s African, mottled beats of “How We See,” a social commentary in progress, the 5/4 Venezuelan-like rain-breeze “Story,” featuring soprano Alex Murzyn.
It’s amazing how much Randolph works in so many favored, often-global styles and every single instrument on the decks, yet keeps the integrity of his high-volume personality in check throughout. Better yet, he leaves certain tunes lingering in the listening vibe.
“No Agenda” is the musical equivalent of spinning around 50 times and trying to find a straight line. Randolph came up with that infernal, spinning musical theme on a drive “near Pacifica… We pulled over and I wrote it down on scrap paper,” Randolph explained in the liner notes. “Since we had no particular plan for the day, the name suggested itself. Check out Marcos Silva’s amazing piano solo!”
One need only take a look into Fred Randolph’s multi-cultural background to sort of get a feel for his multi-cultural, mostly happy music. His first instrument growing up wasn’t bass but ukulele — Hawaii, remember? The ‘60s rock god Jimi Hendrix turned him onto guitar when Randolph was 11. Going to college at UC San Diego, the musician discovered a world of jazz in John Coltrane’s music after a teacher pointed the way. When he crossed over to UC Berkeley for a poli-sci run, Randolph became a street musician on tenor.
Randolph learned from several big-name musicians — formally and in gigs, including Joe Henderson and Bishop Norman Williams. He also learned how to arrange music and handle the trumpet from Jerry Cournoyer, the same cat who played for Woody Herman.
“I wanted to get my hands on a trumpet to experience it,” he said in the release. “When you’re writing for brass, you have to understand that they can only play so long without a break and there are range problems.”
Bass came much later than most players, after studies at Cal State Hayward for a master’s in composition. Randolph concentrated on the new-to-him instrument after Cal State instructor, and bassist, Carl Stanley, went to town on a bass part Randolph wrote for his master’s thesis, for a string quartet. Not only did Randolph bust out the bass, he busted loose on several genres, classical, jazz, and electric, earning a reputation as a reliable and creative sideman in Northern California.
Song Without Singing came out on August 28, 2015.