There are few albums by bass players that come along and seem to say “This is who I am, and this is what I do,” opting to focus more on a talent reel than anything else. “The Diary Of…” by Mike Claiborne is one of those few albums, focusing on the musical voice throughout each song and yet still remaining cohesive as you enjoy the album as a whole.
What grabbed me immediately from this album was the space. The arrangements are not cluttered, with each instrument really playing simple and solid parts to accentuate the whole. What this does is create an album where the playing is accessible, sometimes to the point of singing/humming along with the music. It pulls you in and makes you invested in the pieces.
Upon further listenings, what I really appreciated was Mike’s focus. As said previously, a lot of bass albums try to tackle a lot of things. Mike’s album is firmly set in jazz, funk, fusion, r&b and gospel (and if you check out his website at www.mikeclaiborne.com, you’ll know that he can play a LOT more), and that focus lends itself to an album that you can listen to in its entirety. Especially with an album that took around three years to complete (early 2009 to the end of 2011), it would be easy to have some songs that you scratch your head in terms of where they fit. Not here. As Mike has said, “Each tune is like a diary entry for me. I listen to them and can remember what was going on in my life at the time they were written and recorded,” and that honesty lends a hand in its cohesiveness.
One of the great surprises of the album was Claiborne’s arrangement of the Stevie Wonder hit, “Living for the City.” I found myself bobbing my head along with it quickly, even moving along with his melody line. Mike himself has said in regard to this album, “If an idea didn’t sound natural or feel natural to me, I didn’t use it.” This arrangement I felt was the best implementation of that ideal, building the arrangement up and just when you thought it couldn’t get better, everything drops out to just a slick, Marcus Miller-esque melodic slap line. Again, that use of space creates so much more than filling in every nook and cranny with notes and rhythms.
Mike Claiborne’s “The Diary Of…” lives up to its name. It’s a solid picture into Mike’s identity as a bass player, but more importantly a musician with range and depth. Combine that with the musicality and space throughout, and you have a solid album that can easily be enjoyed by everyone, in its entirety on multiple listens.