There is no doubt in my mind that Oteil Burbridge is one of the most talented and knowledgeable bass players in the national music scene today. I have been an avid follower of his musical career for several years now and was first turned on to his playing when I heard the Aquarium Rescue Unit, a southern-based jam band which combines frenzied bluegrass, jazz and rock and roll all tied together with an infectious funk thread. As well as being a long-standing integral part of this group, Oteil has also joined the legendary Allman Brothers Band and has played the last two years with them. So when I caught word of Oteil’s first solo release, I was brimming with anticipation to hear it.
The album is entitled Oteil and The Peacemakers: Love Of A Lifetime and is entirely instrumental. But while many albums are dependent on lyrics for their musical impact, this album contains a smattering of musical styles and incredible musicianship which supplant the need for any lyrics. The album covers a lot of bases ranging from heavy old school funk a la James Brown and The Meters to more contemporary jazz to some grungy fusion style funk and there is a great overall flow to the album. Oteil spices things up with 6/4 and 6/8 time signatures in his compositions which saves the listener from being bombarded by repetitive 4/4 grooves. With this kind of variety, Oteil demonstrates his versatility not just as a player but also as a composer.
For those of you that are more vocally oriented, Oteil does soothe your auditory needs on several tracks like Barri’s Song and Hymn To The Nile were he provides tasty vocal accompaniment to his bass lines. It’s not exactly words but it will talk to you just the same. I have heard many players sing along with their guitar or bass in an effort to create a blend between their voice and instrument’s tones and often the result sounds more like a practice exercise than music. Oteil, however, is an exception to that rule and he is one of the rare musicians along with the likes of George Benson who has been able to take this technique to a higher level and make real music when he sings with his bass.
One thing that comes really strongly in the music on Love Of A Lifetime is that Oteil definitely had a wonderful time making it. The interaction between he and his brother Kofi Burbridge on this album is incredible. Kofi is one hell of a keyboardist and possibly an even better flutist. These guys are definitely in a fraternal groove together and they compliment each other’s playing really well. The rest of the personnel are also excellent featuring Marcus and Woody Williams taking turns playing drums on the album and some really fluid guitar playing by Regi Wooden (especially on “Subterranea” and “Listen Bart”).
All in all, this album is worth checking out. With the exception of one tune, “Ankh”, which ventures a little too far into the dreaded realm of smooth jazz, all of the cuts on the album are great. I think Love Of A Lifetime is an important landmark in Oteil’s career showing us that he has taken his playing and especially his composition to the next level. It’s chock full of tasty melodic writing and complex harmonies as well as powerful musicianship. The more you listen to this album, the more you will hear on it.