by Ian Mann
January 31, 2018
A very impressive début as a leader from Rosocha. His playing is superb, combining great virtuosity and technical ability with a strong melodic sense and an innate sense of groove.
James Rosocha is an electric bass specialist currently based in Manville, New Jersey. I first encountered his playing during a tour of the UK in the summer of 2017 by the B.D. Lenz Trio featuring leader Lenz on guitar together with Rosocha and drummer Joe Falcey. I enjoyed an excellent instrumental performance by the trio at the Marr’s Bar in nearby Worcester and purchased a copy of the “official bootleg” album “Live in The UK!”, recorded by the same line up in 2015 at another Worcester venue, The Arts Workshop.
I subsequently reviewed Lenz’s latest studio album “Manifesto”, released in 2016 and featuring an expanded line up including Rosocha. My appraisal of that recording can be read here;
Rosocha has worked with Lenz for over twenty years and appears on nine of the guitarist’s albums. He is a graduate of the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston and has also studied with guitarist Harry Leahey and bassist Dave La Rue. Rosocha has worked with many famous musicians including trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Joel Rosenblatt, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and pianist Jeremy Wall (both of the band Spyrogyra) plus the late guitarist Hiram Bullock. He has also collaborated with the prolific guitarist, singer and songwriter Trey Anastasio, leader of the rock band Phish in addition to numerous solo projects.
“Avalon” represents Rosocha’s first album as a leader and an all original programme places the emphasis on his own writing. He composes or co-composes eight of the album’s nine tracks, the exception being “Lost” written by guest vocalist/guitarist Dave Haywood. Lenz guests on one piece and a rotating cast of musicians find their way in and out of the studio, although the album is centred around the core trio of Rosocha, drummer Josh Orlando and guitarist/keyboardist Audric Jankauskas. The latter is also involved in the production process with the bulk of the album having been recorded at his studio in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Like that of Lenz the music created by Rosocha and his sidemen can roughly be placed into the ‘fusion’ bag. “Avalon” embraces elements of jazz, rock, funk and latin and is clearly influenced by the sound of 70s and 80s fusion. It’s arguably less wide ranging and eclectic than the music of the Lenz trio but nevertheless there is much here to enjoy.
Rosocha provides additional keyboards and even vocals on the opener “Dysfunction Junction” which features the core trio of himself, Jankauskas and Orlando. But it’s the leader’s bass that is central to the sound of the piece, firstly via a big, fat, heavy stringed groove and later a fluent, liquidly melodic solo. Jankauskas subsequently digs in with a solo that embraces elements of rock and blues as he’s matched with the leader’s nimble and agile bass. The textured keyboards are sometimes a little too syrupy and the treated, wordless vocals as Rosocha doubles his own bass melody line are a distraction I could have done without. Nevertheless there’s still much to enjoy here, although one can’t help wondering what the piece would have sounded like if the threesome had attacked it in true power trio mode.
Rosocha’s fluent, fleet fingered electric bass is again prominent in the arrangement of the following “Ariana”. He’s been compared to ex Pat Metheny bassist Mark Egan while the more obvious inspirations of Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke and Steve Swallow are also there in his sound. Nevertheless the twenty years of experience that the still youthful looking Rosocha brings to his music have ensured that he has developed a soloing style that is very much his own. This Latin flavoured piece also features the sparkling piano soloing of Steve Kramer while drummer Orlando, vibraphonist Kendall Scott and percussionist John Christie provide authentic rhythmic exotica.
There’s more keyboard doubling on “Turbulence Ahead”, the second piece performed by the core trio of Rosocha, Jankauskas and Orlando. Initially propelled by the leader’s slap bass grooves the piece also features the more melodic side of Rosocha’s playing during his solo interlude. Meanwhile Jankauskas provides searing guitar and similarly incisive synth while Orlando keeps the grooves tight and funky.
“By The Wayside” introduces more of an acoustic jazz vibe on an attractive jazz waltz that combines the fluid sound of Rosocha’s electric bass with Kramer’s piano and Geoff Mattoon’s sinuous soprano sax. Orlando applies a more orthodox jazz approach at the drums but it’s the stunning high register fluency of the leader’s bass that first captures the attention as he shares the solos with Kramer, the pianist impressing for a second time with his inventive and imaginative playing.
“Lost” is written by guitarist/vocalist Dave Haywood who adds his high pitched R & B style vocalising to a propulsive funk groove laid down by Rosocha, percussionist Christie and drummer Scott Jordan. Kendall Scott, who appeared earlier on vibes now impresses with a lively piano solo. Rosocha stretches with an agile, high register electric bass solo as Scott switches to Hammond and Haywood adds choppy, funky rhythm guitar. Meanwhile Haywood’s lyrics are fairly standard ‘love and loss’ fare, it’s the instrumental solos that provide the real highlights here.
“Rumpus” introduces yet another new line up with Rosocha on bass and keyboards joined by keyboard soloist Nick Rolfe and drummer Kevin Soffera for a sturdy slice of bass driven funk that includes more virtuoso soloing from Rosocha and a passage of searing Bernie Worrall style synth from Rolfe as Soffera lays down a propulsive backbeat.
The title track is essentially a solo bass feature performed by Rosocha on one of the Spector basses that he endorses, in this case an NS four string. Virtuosity is combined with a tender melodicism with guitarist Jankauskas adding additional texture and melodic accompaniment.
“Reverie”, co-written by Rosocha and Jankauskas belies its title with an infectious, driving groove allied to melodic solos from Jankauskas, Rosocha and keyboard player Thomas C. Alexander on acoustic piano. This is classic jazz funk fusion with Orlando keeping the grooves tight and tasty as the soloists stretch out individually and collectively.
The closing “Harlem River Drive” brings Rosocha’s regular employer B.D. Lenz to the party on a final fusion workout featuring the leader’s melodic, virtuoso playing propelled by the insistent rhythms of Orlando and Christie. Rosocha also fills out the sound on keyboards but its his bass playing that most impresses, alongside the powerful solos from Mattoon, this time on tenor sax, and Lenz, a very welcome guest, on guitar. Mattoon also appears on the Lenz album “Manifesto”.
All in all “Avalon” represents a very impressive début as a leader from Rosocha. He’s responsible for the bulk of the writing and the sound of his electric bass dominates the arrangements. His playing is superb, combining great virtuosity and technical ability with a strong melodic sense and an innate sense of groove. You find bass solos boring? Not here you won’t, Rososcha has the ability to consistently hold the attention, but to do so in a way that doesn’t appear gratuitous or over the top. His writing and arranging skills help to ensure that his virtuoso playing is an essential part of the fabric of the music, sounding totally organic and never feeling out of place.
The leader is well supported by his rotating cast of guests. The core trio of Rosocha, Jankauskas and Orlando impress as do visiting soloists such as Kramer, Scott, Mattoon, Alexander and , of course, Lenz.
This is unapologetically a fusion record and some jazz purists may not find it to their tastes but overall there is much to enjoy. For me some of the electric keyboards and vocals represent a bit of a weak link but these represent a small percentage of an album that is really all about the bass.
Any touring band that Rosocha is able to put together is likely to be a highly exciting live prospect. And look out for him with B.D. Lenz too.blog comments powered by Disqus