Winning Spins by Bill Meredith

From Jazz & Blues Florida:

BASSISTS JUST MIGHT BE THE MOST commonly overlooked musicians on the bandstand, mostly because of the misperception that their instrument is easier to play than others. Listeners also tend to ignore the fact that bassists and drummers can rarely lay out to create space, unlike guitarists, keyboardists and horn players. But South Florida bassist Jamie Ousley splits the difference between support and spotlight on his sophomore CD, Back Home (Tie Records), with very impressive results.

As he did on his last disc, 2008’s O Sorriso Dela, Ousley returned to Osaka, Japan, to rcord with longtime trio mates Phillip Srange and Larry Marshall, on piano and drums, respectively. Both musicians were staples of the South Florida jazz scene before relocating, and the threesome share an unmistakable synergy.

Rather than relying on familiar standards, Ousley includes just one and creatively rearranges it. On Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan plays the melody on alto flute with all the sophistication expected of a 79-year-old jazz icon. Strange’s solo is brief but compelling, as is Ousley’s, yet the bassist spends most of the seven-minute track doing his job—locking in with Marshall. Ousley also rearranges Chopin’s “Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2.” In the process, he turns the classical piece into a playful romp with Strange and percussionist Carlomagno Araya.

But Ousley creates the most interest with his original compositions. On the bassist’s opening composition, “A Tune, Sir?” Sullivan’s fluid flugelhorn perfectly complements the bounce provided by Strange and the rhythm section. A New Orleans-flavored stroll, “This Is It!” employs the same personnel, only this time Sullivan adds spice on soprano saxophone— an instrument he uses to completely different effect on the ballad, “Clearing.”

Sullivan hired Ousley for his own band, and the unselfish bassist seems like he’s returning the favor throughout Back Home by placing the spotlight directly on his esteemed elder. (Of course, prominently featuring someone of Sullivan’s stature won’t do Ousley any harm, either.) The venerable South Florida musician also lends instrumental warmth to a couple of vocal ballads.

On “So Long,” Ousley’s ode to his uncle Lea Ousley, who died of cancer last year, LeNard Rutledge’s soulful voice is augmented by the bassist’s cadence, Marshall’s brushwork, Strange’s chording and Sullivan’s poignant soprano sax solo. Perhaps an indication that Ousley is a minister’s son, “Prayer” again features Sullivan on alto flute during an extended intro, before vocalist Nanami Morikawa sings the familiar recitation of “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

A Tennessee native who relocated in 1998 to study at the University of Miami, Ousley combines his Southern origins with South Florida’s Latino culture on a pair of compositions. “Nashvillatino” features Araya’s array of propulsive percussion instruments, plus Satement-making solos by Ousley and Strange amid the salsa-flavored rhythms. “Pasaje Tennessee” lures the listener in with a traditional jazz intro before Jhonny Mendoza introduces South American flavors via mandolin, violin, maracas and cuatro (four-stringed guitar).

Of all Ousley’s gifts as a musician, his keen ears may be the most impressive. Few bassists can play comfortably in a duo with a vocalist, since being the lone rhythmic, harmonic and melodic instrumentalist is often about as comfortable as public nudity. But Ousley and West Palm Beach-based singer SAMM have dueted at various South Florida venues for more than five years. SAMM’s smoky delivery proves the perfect vehicle for the wistful title ballad, this time in a quartet with Ousley, Strange and Marshall. An instrumental bonus-track version, with ace Miami saxophonist Ed Calle playing the vocal melody on soprano, provides the CD’s coda.

On paper, the serpentining themes and moods of Back Home might appear to lack continuity. But thankfully they appear on disc, where they add up to one of the more impressive recordings by a South Florida-based jazz artist.