Add this to the list of jobs I’m glad I don’t have:
David Longstreth’s bass player.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I’ve no reason to believe Mr. Longstreth isn’t a fine boss, that the rest of Dirty Projectors aren’t good company or that being in the band isn’t day after day of blissful camaraderie and swank accommodation.
It’s just that poor Nat Baldwin and his four strings were gravely outnumbered. Like the Little Dutch Boy holding on 20 meters north of Niagara’s drop, he was.
You see, from time immemorial (or at least since 1954), the bass player has served two essential functions.
A) To provide tonal material from the lower portion of the frequency range. This is the “bass” part.
B) To aid in the formation of what is known, in the musical vernacular, as a “pocket.” This is the “player” part.
Charles Mingus, Bill Black, Duck Dunn, Paul Chambers, George Porter, all of ’em. When they played bass, they commanded the lower registers and tended the pocket so that things didn’t get too rangy and awkward for the rest of us. Even a wild-eyed narcissist like Jaco knew that, despite the fact his guitar had no frets, it was his job to “hold it down,” as they say. Bass players are the tent-stakes of contemporary music.
But, the way Longstreth organizes the sound of Dirty Projectors, Mr. Baldwin has no chance. It is almost as if, bass guitar aside, Longstreth only wishes to be accompanied by pitches above that of his voice, a high-tenor. Even the kick drum is tuned to a flat, wooden knock. The result is a symphony of treble, reedy voices and front pick-ups run through Jazz Chorus 120s and crash cymbals and our Mr. Baldwin, our bass player, is like a panda bear at a lizard convention.
Then, as if being called out as a tonal anomaly wasn’t bad enough, the pocket, that mythical repository of virtually all western music, is made irrelevant by Longstreth’s guitar (the real star of our show) which leaps and crackles and insists that any given moment is the right moment for it to do its thing.
Pity the poor bass player.