Rob Thorsen: master bassist
Double-bass veteran Rob Thorsen made it a one-man show on Sunday, with a riveting, solo bass performance at Bread & Salt in the Logan Heights section of San Diego.
Thorsen performed before a sizable, enthusiastic crowd of supporters There was an electric sense of anxiety in the air -- solo bass concerts have a built-in danger factor -- but as he opened Freddie Hubbard’s "Crisis" with rubbery double-stops and a viscous ostinato, Thorsen’s solid time, big woody tone and melodic velocity narrowed the focus to a state of pure enjoyment.
The San Diego bassist can tug at the heartstrings and still veer toward the fringes of expression, as he bowed a raw, coursing arco through much of Charlie Chaplin’s often maudlin "Smile," which succeeded on both the emotional and intellectual levels with clever phrasing and a bold selection of ideas.
Thorsen switched basses about midpoint, picking up a battered instrument (it had more staples, scars and patches than Frankenstein after a horrible car crash) outfitted with gut strings and played unamplified, delivering a nod to the late-great Oscar Pettiford. It was a nice touch to hear the instrument acoustically, but Thorsen may have been playing the bass too fast to appreciate the tonal nuance. When he began a superspeed walk on "Bohemia After Dark," however, all of Thorsen’s protean proclivities came into laser focus – the man’s time can rival an atomic clock for accuracy, and there is an inherent joy in just listening to the man walk his ass off. Likewise, Cole Porter’s "All Right by Me" swung like a freshly lubricated front gate, and the tremolo bowing, flying fingers and funky vamps rewarded the close attention paid to every selection.
No bassist gigs more in San Diego than Mr. Thorsen, whose devotion to music often finds him playing in the park between paid performances. This opportunity to hear him creating in the moment -- alone -- gave everyone in the audience a new perspective on his evolving art.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.