Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Basia's Back, and We Remember Her Burnin' Bari Player

When I was in college, I became a fan of the Polish jazz-pop singer Basia, whose music was a fresh alternative to what was going on at the time: Jazz harmonies with strong pop sensibilities, a Jobim-esque sense of melody on many of her tunes, and--a special bonus from where I sit--a bari player who sounded quite a bit like Gerry Mulligan. Since her first recording, Time and Tide, had minimal liner notes (and this being the pre-Google era), I didn't have a name to put with that saxophonist until her second recording, London Warsaw New York, where he was identified as Ronnie Ross; he even broke out the bass sax on one of the tunes on that album!

By the time she released her third recording, The Sweetest Illusion, the pop side of things was starting to take over (though I did have a soft spot for one of the tunes on that CD, "Third Time Lucky," which shared chord changes with one of my own sambas in the first and last four bars of the chorus). I was also disappointed that Ronnie Ross was nowhere to be found on that album; how could she let someone like that go? Eventually, Basia dropped out of sight for a number of years, though I'd pull out the first two CDs on occasion.

Fast forward to 2004, when I noticed a new CD by someone named "Matt Bianco" which proclaimed, "featuring Basia" at the top. It turns out that Matt Bianco is not a someone but a something--the first band she was in after moving to London, before her solo career, and the group that would unite her with her longtime collaborator, pianist Danny White. I didn't pick up that recording, but I looked for it online a time or two.

And while reading about Matt Bianco, I discovered why Ronnie Ross had been conspicuously missing from The Sweetest Illusion: He had passed away three years before it was recorded. Such a shame; that was someone I would have loved to see perform in person. (On the '04 Matt Bianco CD, Matt's Mood, there were evidently some old Ross solos unearthed and spliced into the proceedings; I'll have to check that out at some point.)

And then, a few weeks ago, I read in the paper (yes, I'm old-school that way) that Basia was about to release a new CD under her own name again. It's called It's That Girl Again, and it seems to take up where London Warsaw New York left off, with great singing and writing and the jazz vibe predominating. It could be said that the best music is like an old friend--you can be away from it for a while, and when you get back together, everything takes up where it left off, and this CD does the same thing. The only thing missing, of course, is Ross; it would have been great to hear him blow over these tunes.

But my searching also proved fruitful, as I stumbled upon not only a tribute page to Ross on the Web, but another site featuring documentation of rare recordings and radio broadcasts by Ross, along with free downloads of same. The taste of great bari playing that I've known for so long from the Basia CDs has finally turned into a full-blown meal, and it's just as great as I imagined.

Welcome back, Basia! And thanks for introducing me to Ronnie.

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