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The Things I Am by Reuben Rogers

One can only imagine the kind of musical influences that you would be exposed to growing up on the Virgin Islands. You could have your pick of everything from Reggae to Calypso to Jazz to Gospel. This was the environment that birthed Reuben Rogers, a Berklee-educated bassist who now gives us his first solo album. The Things I Am takes an introspective look at Roger’s past, both on his island home and his days of playing with Joshua Redman, among others. Rogers gives us five original compositions as well as a few classics, all done in a very groovy, very unique style.

The opener, "Wala Wala" is said by Rogers to be "a musical expression of the primal spirit of man struggling to achieve higher evolutionary levels". Rogers begins with a plucked, unaccompanied bass solo, as if to mimic the simple chaos that was early man, alone in the world. There’s a droning in the background that sounds somewhat like chanting. The rest of the rhythm section joins in, as well as Nicholas Payton playing the trumpet melody. Payton’s solo is perfectly suited for this piece, using some of the same themes Roger introduces. The piece has an overall chaotic element to it, but is driven by the solid beat laid down by the rhythm section.

"Philip" takes a different approach. Roger’s intro solo is bowed and the melodic, lyrical line is played over a steel drum, giving the piece a feeling of reminiscence. A set of chimes introduces Ron Blake’s alto flute, which then takes over the melody. The groove begins to thicken and moves with a Caribbean feel. Roger’s adds a depth to the sound, blending seamlessly with the steel drum and keyboard. The beat keeps going through the solos, changing subtly and assuredly with each new soloist.

The title track for this album, "The Things I Am", is in essence a synthesis of all those influences Rogers has experienced. It begins with a reggae-like beat, laid down by guitarist David Gilmore. The jazzy, laidback melody is done by Ron Blake, this time on baritone saxophone, adding a contrast to the high, sharp sound of Gilmore’s guitar and Roger’s plucky bass playing. Both Blake’s and Gilmore’s solos are intensive, belying the groove being laid down. But the elements of the piece flow together, meshing in different ways to create a sound that’s both familiar and novel.

To avoid boring the reader with a much longer review, and so you can still have some surprises when you listen to the album yourself, I’ll stop here. But each of the tracks on this album could be my new favorite song. "Fungi Mama" is an island classic. The rendition of "Nearness of You" is one of the more soulful versions I’ve heard. This is an amazing line up of musicians, and they have given us a fine album in result. Rogers stands out, however, both for his compositional abilities and his soloing. I for one am looking forward to the next album.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Reuben Rogers
  • CD Title: The Things I Am
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Renwick Entertainment, Inc.
  • Tracks: Wala Wala, Anorev, Ting For Ray, St. Thomas, Shed, Phillip, Fungi Mama, The Things I Am, Nearness of You, Just In Time, Alleviation
  • Musicians: Reuben Rogers (double bass, acoustic electric bass), Ron Blake (tenor and baritone sax, alto flute), Joshua Redman (tenor sax), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Aaron Goldberg (piano, Fender Rhodes), Gregory Hutchinson (drums), Kahlil Kwame Belle (percussion), Adam Cruz (steel drum), David Gilmore (guitar), Mark Whitfield (guitar)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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