Chances are you have several CDs with Nathan East playing bass on them. Nathan has played with Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Kenny Loggins, George Harrison, B.B. King, Whitney Houston, Wayne Shorter, Barbra Streisand (yes, THAT Barbara), and even the show I direct, The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree. If you watched the Grammys, he was featured on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” one of the biggest records of the year and winner of the Grammy for album & record of the year. Here’s the link to the performance.
I was a fan long before I ever met Nathan. Not only is he the premiere bassist in contemporary music, he is an exceptional human. You’ve heard people say, “They are really nice in person”, well, Nathan might be one of the nicest humans I have ever met. Not an ounce of hubris or arrogance. He is brilliant, and can talk about any subject.
His self-titled solo album is a tapestry of musical styles, filled with phenomenal arrangements and performances from incredible musicians, including original compositions by East, such as the Fourplay standard “101 Eastbound,” co-written with his brother, Marcel, and renditions of classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” which is impossible to listen to without smiling (as big as Nathan smiles!).
“Letter From Home” is a Pat Metheny composition. I can remember in one of my late night talks with him, he told me of his great affection for Metheny. Michael McDonald brings his distinctive vocals to Van Morrison’s “Moondance”. It starts simply with Nathan & Michael, and then a big band drives this classic in a completely different direction, in a word, “brilliant!”
Proving he is in touch with what’s happening in the music scene and keeps himself up-to-date constantly, Sarah Bareilles sings “I Can let Go Now”, a poignant Michael McDonald tune. Then just to make sure you’re paying attention, “Daft Punk” another original, lays down a hybrid of Jazz, Funk & House music.
Fans of Contemporary Jazz will love Chuck Leob’s (Fourplay’s guitarist) “Sevente” as well as Bob James’ (Fourplay’s keyboardist) “Moodswing”. “Madiba”, is another original (co-written with Yamaha’s Chris Gero, who also co-produced the album), with Nathan adding some really hip vocals to a gospel/world music groove.
Eric Clapton shows up on Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, an incredibly touching song that makes you stop and assess what is important in life. In case you forgot (didn’t know), Nathan shows off his remarkable voice in a duet with Clapton’s inspired guitar playing. The arrangement is open and airy with room for the melody and music to connect with the listener. Noah East, Nathan’s son, plays a duet with his dad on “Yesterday”. Something so often recorded can become pedestrian. The chord changes and phrasing here, is anything but. I get emotional listening to this interpretation.
Occasionally, I consider learning to play harmonica (never offered at the Conservatoire I attended), but when I hear Stevie Wonder play, I rethink my folly. He is perfect on his version of “Overjoyed”.
The closing anthem is “America the Beautiful”, starting with Nathan, solo on his bass, then a full orchestra accompanies his lyrical playing, when the horns introduce the choir, an enormous sound takes this rendition to Super bowl level performance.
What a joy to listen to this disc, anticipating the next track and each time, finding oneself surprised at the musical turn taken, a breathtaking album worthy of any collection.