"I've always wanted to be able to solo like an alto sax player," says Steve LaSpina. "I thought of the bass as a horn and refused to be limited by its size." A melodic bassist with excellent chops, Steve revels in complex lines and adventurous note choices-check his solo on the radical reworking of "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" on The Road Ahead [RAM/Allegro, 800- 288-2007]. LaSpina also keeps lines fresh by constantly shifting his accents and blending eighth- note and triplet phrases. In the rhythm section LaSpina delivers an inventive mix of walking lines, contrapuntal phrases, and spontaneous tempo modulations, and he's not afraid of straightahead lyricism, either. His well-rounded tones and artful portamento lend a vocal quality to such ballads as "Lush Life" from The Road Ahead.
"For years I practiced six to eight hours a day to develop the technique I needed," LaSpina recounts. "Now I don't have time to do that, but I try to play as often as possible and even practice in my head, trying to hear and sing what I play."
Steve has the right to feel busy, having built a body of recorded work backing such third-wave jazzers as pianists Fred Hersch and Andy LaVerne and guitarists Pat Martino, John Abercrombie, and Joe Diorio. For Road LaSpina was joined by saxophonist Billy Drewes, pianist Jim McNeely, guitarist Vic Juris, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield.
A Chicago native, Steve studied classical music at DePaul University . (He still does a lot of arco studio work.) In '79 LaSpina migrated to New York and almost immediately began a five-year stint with pianist Marian McPartland. He then played with sax man Stan Getz and singer Joe Williams, and from 1985 to '93 backed guitarist Jim Hall. "With Jim I learned so much about playing melodically and using space," notes LaSpina, whose influences include Oscar Pettiford, Red Mitchell, Charles Mingus, and Scott LaFaro. In '92 Steve began recording as a leader; Distant Dreams, his ninth CD (including two with Hersch for a co-op group called Etc.) will be released soon on Steeplechase.
Steve's full, woody tone comes from an 1850s 7/8 Parisian instrument strung with Pirastro Flexicor jazz E, A, and D strings and a Flexicor Orchestral G. ("The combination gives me the warm, dark sound I'm looking for.") Steve uses two pickups: a David Gage Realist for quiet acoustic settings and a Schertler when he needs more volume. "I got the third head Walter Woods made when he went from the square amp to the rectangular 20 years ago," Steve says. "It's never given me a problem. In speakers I found what I wanted in the Raezer's Edge system. It's a 1x12 ported cabinet that's clean and clear and very warm. It has the right sound for upright bass."
A talented composer as well as bassist, LaSpina mixes chordal, modal, and free styles, and his settings often have an airy lyricism that recalls Miles Davis's 1965-68 quintets. On Road you can hear that quality in the bossa "Sweet Dreams," and you can also read the chart - it's one of three LaSpina tunes printed in miniature in the liner notes.
BassNotes: Acoustic's New World Order