Bassist and composer Martin Wind sees Light Blue (Laika), his newest and 11th disc, as a two-in-one project. That conceit comes across in how he evenly divides the album’s 10 compositions between sides one and two, as if it’s an LP.
Side one—Light—features an ensemble that includes trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonist Scott Robinson, pianist and organist Gary Versace and drummer Matt Wilson. Side two—Blue—showcases Wind leading a different combo that includes drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, pianist Bill Cunliffe, singer Maucha Adnet and clarinetist Anat Cohen.
Some musicians overlap between the two sides: For instance, Robinson, on tenor saxophone, plays on “While I’m Still Here,” the strutting opener of Light, and Blue’s opener, “A Genius And A Saint,” an enchanting ballad, on which he delivers a sterling clarinet melody. Cohen crisscrosses between the sides, too. She pairs her ebullient clarinet with Robinson’s saxophone on Light’s prancing “Ten Minute Song,” while participating in all of the five tunes that make up Blue.
Wind has forged long musical relationships with everyone on Light Blue, which partly explains its cohesiveness and deep sense of communal empathy. Besides technical facilities, Wind seeks artists who can “make the music come off the page.”
“I look for players who play my melodies as if they had written them,” he said.
The bassist’s strongest ally is Wilson with whom he’s built a fruitful professional and personal relationship that dates back two decades when they played together with the late singer Carla White. Since then, they’ve both played in each other’s ensembles, as well as joined forces as the rhythm section for such stellar musicians as singer and pianist Dena DeRose, pianist Bill Mays and clarinetist Ken Peplowski.
“There’s no other drummer whom I played with more,” Wind said of Wilson, who co-produced Light Blue. “We’re family. I’ve known him, his family and his children for such a long time. We have such a trust, and you’ll hear that in our music.”
Of course, the strongest common denominator between Light and Blue is Wind, who buoys both groups with his sinewy, joyous sound. Wind credits a duo recording of bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and guitarist Philip Catherine that he was introduced to when he was a teenager in Flensburg, Germany, as being the influential bedrock for his extremely melodic approach to the bass.
“That was my first experience listening to a great jazz bassist. So, I thought that was how you played jazz bass,” Wind said, before explaining that he had no knowledge at the time of Pedersen’s worldwide acclaim for lyricism. “Later on, I learned how that wasn’t really the norm for jazz bassists. But Pedersen set the bar really high for me.”
In addition to citing other bass luminaries, such as Ray Brown and Ron Carter as significant touchstones, Wind also credits his melodic approach to the six years of studying classical music during his formal education that began in high school and included time at the Music Conservatory in Cologne, Germany, in the German navy band and at New York University.
Wilson praises Wind as a consummate jazz bassist, in full command of both his instrument and imagination.
“He has all the mechanics of the instrument to take the music to a lot of different places. He has a lot of ways of playing music,” the drummer said. “It’s one thing to have good time as a bassist, but he has really good bass lines, too. His bass lines are melodies, which offer such a great layer of support to the tunes.”
Light Blue offers some of Wind’s fetching compositions, all of which teem with captivating melodies, seductive harmonies and emotional immediacy. As a composer, he often pens music away from the bass or piano in a manner that he learned from pianist Kenny Werner, called “random composition,” while studying at NYU.
“Kenny was convinced that if you sit at the piano and try to write, sometimes you recreate things that are just part of your listening experience. And that way, it becomes more difficult to come up with something new,” Wind explained. “He encouraged me to write melodies and chord progressions away from the piano. Then afterward, sit at the piano and see what resonates with me.”
Fellow bassist and composer John Clayton argued that Wind has great command of ensemble writing, too.
“He knows how to write for various instruments. I know that sounds very basic, but a lot of people just start writing music without understanding the qualities of different instruments,” Clayton said. “Martin doesn’t have that problem. He knows about writing for strings—bowings and harmonics and blending instruments. He has a wonderful technical base from which he works. Once you have that, the rest of it is just fantasy. It’s the same thing with learning the bass. If you know how to play the instrument, then you’re not restrained by having an idea and not knowing how to breathe life into it.”
Light Blue certainly exudes an abundance of life. Songs like the effervescent, samba-driven “Seven Steps To Rio,” the dark, harmonically rich ballad “February” and the stomping, funky whimsy of “Power Chords” illustrate Wind’s knack for concocting picturesque originals that are at once ethereal and earthy.
“I can actually sing a lot of Martin’s songs,” Wilson said. “[He] writes material that really displays emotions, but they are also challenging to play. He supports his melodies with imaginative harmonies and rhythmic approaches. Writing beautiful melodies that sound deceptively simple isn’t easy to do.” DB