Bassist-Composer Brandi Disterheft Shows Gratitude on Her Third Release… From her deep, resonating upright bass lines and potent improvisations, it is clear that 27-year-old Brandi Disterheft, an accomplished musician hailing from Vancouver and currently residing in New York City, has a healthy respect for the jazz tradition. A quick check of her bass mentors – Canada’s Don Thompson (renowned for his collaborations with jazz guitar greats Lenny Breau, Sonny Greenwich and Jim Hall), Rufus Reid, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Rodney Whitaker and, more recently, Ron Carter – gives an indication of her low-end pedigree. “I really do like that low end,” says Brandi, “whether it’s from Mingus playing so raw and passionately or the beautiful walking solos from Monk’s bass player Larry Gales or Jimmy Blanton with Ellington and Sam Woodyard. I just love all that stuff. It feels good to listen to and feels good to play.”
But to better understand where this talent deserving of wider recognition is truly coming from, you’d have to listen to her compositions. Which brings us to Gratitude, her third release as a leader and most accomplished outing to date. Accompanied by an all-star crew featuring fellow Canadian Renee Rosnes on piano along with alto sax burner Vincent Herring (a longtime member of Cedar Walton’s group), flutist Anne Drummond, trumpeter Sean Jones and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, Disterheft reveals her abundant chops and infinite capacity to swing on this superb Justin Time Records release.
Few bassists this young have such a mature approach to the instrument or such a deep appreciation of jazz icons like Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington or revered songwriters like George Gershwin and Jimmy Van Heusen. But that’s where Disterheft lives as a budding jazz musician-composer.
Her startling solo bass interpretation of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” is an instant indication of her commitment to the jazz tradition while her adventurous interpretation of Gene McDaniel’s “Compared to What” (popularized by the classic Les McCann-Eddie Harris album, The Swiss Movement) has her updating that politically-tinged anthem to fit modern times. “I actually know that song from the Roberta Flack version (from her 1969 debut, First Take), which my teacher, Mr. Ron Carter, played on. That’s why someone passed that song to me a few years ago. And I think it really corresponds to what’s going on today with all the violence and all the controversy about the war in Afghanistan and how far do we want to go and to what degree do we want to go and nation-build in view of what’s happening here with the economy. That song even has resonance in Canada, what with the pipelines and all the drilling going on up there and the potential environmental damage. The world is changing a lot right now and this song really relates to that sentiment. It raises the question, “Who are we trusting and who’s in power?”
Elsewhere on Gratitude, Brandi reveals her accomplished arco work on the relaxed “Blues for Nelson Mandela,” then showcases her adeptness at writing horn harmonies along with her forcefully swinging bass lines on the title track, which she dedicates to her cousin David Jahns, who recently died following a bout with cancer. The briskly swinging “Portrait of Duke” was inspired by Ellington’s Far East Suite while the gentle “Kissing the Cheek of Providence” straddles that line between rawness and elegance that Mingus regularly crossed. Disterheft shows a distinctive bounce on the swaggering quintet number “Open,” then reveals a hauntingly beautiful vocal style on Van Heusen’s oft-covered ‘But Beautiful.” She also swings out on Rosnes’ harmonically potent “Mizmahta” whispers her way through the dramatic and alluring “Le Regarder La Recontere Encor,” sung in French. “It’s basically a song about unrequited love,” says Brandi. “I’m singing: ‘I’m here on the sixth floor and my fireplace is smoldering. I’ve woken up really early in the morning, I can’t sleep. I’m shivering from my heart being broken.’ And then I’m saying, ‘Don’t you remember making love under the branches? Can’t you see that I’m dedicated to you? Please believe me that I love you. Come back to me. I’m crazy about you.'”
“I love singing in French,’ she adds. “It’s almost like a different persona or different character when I’m singing. And for some reason, it feels very free. You can get as dramatic as you want when you sing in another language. Sometimes in English, maybe I would be quite bashful, but it seems like French is quite a romantic language and you have a lot of artistic freedom in that language. Growing up on the West Coast in Vancouver, you’re not exposed to French that much. But I studied French in school and whenever I perform in Quebec, I always make sure to sing at least a few tunes in French. It’s just part of the culture there.”
Says Disterheft of her accomplished sidemen on Gratitude: “Renee Rosnes is from my high school…North Vancouver, Canada. We had the same band teacher. So I met her years ago and grew up listening to her music. Renee is one of my favorite players. She’s got that beautiful touch and she swings so hard. Greg Hutchinson is someone I actually wrote a song for many years ago. He’s always been one of my favorite drummers. I’ve been doing sessions at Vincent Herring’s house for the last year and a half. I just love his playing in Cedar Walton’s band. I just played with his band actually two weekends ago up at Smoke. He has this big, beautiful sound that has so much tradition, so much fire. And Sean Jones, who played with Wynton’s band for years, is someone I met at jazz camp years ago. He’s one of my favorite trumpeters. He always talks about how when you play music it’s supposed to be about love. You’re supposed to emulate love or portray love in music. That’s an incredible message. And Anne Drummond is one of my best friends. We met back at the Sisters in Jazz Competition and she introduced me to a lot of people here in New York because she recorded with Stefon Harris and Kenny Barron and so many others. She’s quite a composer and can play anything. She’s on alto flute, bass flute and regular flute on this album.”
Gratitude stands as an increment leap from Brandi’s 2007 Juno Award-winning Debut and 2009’s Second Side. It heralds the arrival of a promising new talent from the North with a healthy respect for the bottom.
For more information on Brandi Disterheft, visit brandidisterheft.com