A band with three bass players as the upfront soloists? Sounds like a guaranteed formula for low-frequency clutter. They might as well feature the tune “Mississippi Mud,” since that’s probably how it will sound.

But all those apprehensions are brushed aside by the simple fact that this is a group of uncommonly gifted musicians--not simply players, not simply bass players, but musicians. Add to that the fact that, in age, they represent a cross section of half a century or more of jazz history--Brown is 70, Clayton is 42 and McBride just turned 25--and the stage is set for a potentially fascinating musical event.

And it delivers on virtually every count. The CD was recorded live at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston in October 1996, with the additional assistance of pianist Benny Green and drummer Gregory Hutchinson on a few tracks. Green has a chance to stretch out a bit on a driving, up-tempo romp through “Who Cares” and a slow, grooving “Sculler Blues” (with his old trio leader, Brown, playing bass on both), but, beyond these appealing tracks, the most impressive musical moments are provided by the three sterling bassists.


Particularly intriguing are those pieces performed by only Brown, Clayton and McBride--”Blue Monk,” “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “Mack the Knife,” “Centerpiece” and the “Super Bass Theme”--as a kind of jazz bass trio. The general pattern is for one of the players to lay down a walking bass line while another plays the melody and the third adds a harmony line or some occasional interjections. (On “Centerpiece,” the melody is laid out in three-part, pizzicato harmonies.)

McBride, who has become the all-star, A-list sideman for an incredible array of musicians, emerges as a remarkably powerful soloist. His incredibly articulate choruses on “Mack the Knife,” for example, are the work of a player who somehow manages to stay in touch with tradition while stretching the limits of the bass solo style. His original tune “Brown Funk” (played by the three basses with drummer Hutchinson) is little more than a vamp rhythm tune, but it clearly demonstrates McBride’s feel for the heart of the beat.

Clayton, better known as a bandleader and arranger, offers solos crafted with the intelligence of a composer. And his lovely arco on the against-type ballad rendering of “Lullaby of Birdland” has a lush, charming, cello-like quality. Brown, as always, is dependable and solid--the quintessential all-around bassist. But he also reveals in his solos a taste for blues-driven lines that is utterly beyond historical category or limitation.

All these individual skills--the quick, flashing solos, the sudden, overwhelming bursts of feral sound that can only be produced by an acoustic double bass--are endlessly compelling. What really makes this a special event, however, is the rare manner in which these gifted individual artists bend and shape the sounds of their unwieldy instruments into an unlikely but captivating jazz ensemble.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four (excellent).