Extraordinarily talented bassist and composer Jimmy Haslip is no stranger to jazz aficionados. Longtime bassist with the supergroup Yellowjackets, he has appeared on an almost limitless number of recordings. While Nightfall is only his fourth release as a leader, he has worked with countless other artists including Steely Dan, Tom Scott, Brenda Russell, Lee Ritenour, Eric Marienthal, Marc Antoine, Randy Crawford, Michael Franks and Jeff Lorber.
This recording features Canadian born keyboardist, composer and sound engineer Joe Vannelli. While Vannelli has never released a recording as a leader himself, he has been nominated for a number of Grammy awards and is a six-time winner of the Canadian version of the Grammy's, the Juno's. He has worked with artists like Marilyn Scott and REO Speedwagon, as well as with his vocalist brother Gino.
This album is so solidly in the fusion category it fits in perfectly with the material both Weather Report did and the Yellowjackets currently record. What sets the recording apart from those others, however, is the percussion. There is no drum set. Instead Jason Hann covers the congas, talking drum and percussion, with Jimmy Branly covering timbales on one track. The result is a more open rhythmically arranged sound that perfectly suits Haslip's synth effected bass and Vannelli's wonderfully layered and transparent keyboards.
Listening to the recording reminds one how devoid the current music scene is of top notch artists working in the electric fusion arena. There is an excitement and energy in this music, even though it never comes at you with a blowtorch. Instead Haslip and Vannelli take a delicate approach to the nine co-written compositions, leaving their six-shooters at home.
Still, this recording features some drop-dead performances. "Empath" drips with Haslip's trademark lines and "Xango" is a tour de force of tasteful keyboard sheets of sound. You have to be a brilliant musician to not do too much on this Latin inspired hip swinger. So many lesser keyboardists would have dropped their whole arsenal into this chart, but Vannelli's taste shows itself in spades here by keeping things to a minimum.
There are a few guests on the recording. Steve Tavaglione blows a wonderfully sultry soprano saxophone solo on "The Third Man." Fellow Yellowjacket member and saxophonist Bob Mintzer colors the ballad "Nightfall" with just the right amount of sincerity and harmonic coloring to make it one of the more distinctive jazz ballads of 2011 and Katisse Buckingham blows some wild alto flute on "Palo Alto." All in all this is a sweet recording by two certifiable monster musicians, just don't expect fireworks.