Sixteen Days of Bass

Today’s pick, being our first selection on a weekend, seems like it should be the most spontaneously exuberant thus far. What is the weekend but a time to enjoy yourself? As such, you take a song with an extremely memorable bass part, played by one of the true originals of the instrument, and then you find a version that goes even farther.

The pick, almost obviously becomes Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ with the inimitable Bakithi Kumalo on bass. Not only does the original seem like a victory lap for Kumalo, the alternative version is him playing—and building upon his parts—without much formal band accompaniment. There’s enough vocal arrangement for the song to seem flushed out, but nothing works without Kumalo’s bristly, burping—commentators liken it to endless flatulence, which without the foul overtones seems apt several times—bass runs (and really that’s all this version of the song is). There’s a fluidity to everything here, even times when he’s clearly wrestling notes out and popping sudden explosive finger flicks. Everywhere are wonderful little flourishes; 0:35-0:38 is so wonderfully subdued, 1:15-1:30 is a spastic explosion that quickly rushes to a mournful close (1:32), I love the upturn at 1:42 to foreshadow Simon’s line, “he makes the sound of a wave” as if his bass is rising and cresting at sea, 3:17-3:20 is a rolling, tumbling close and we’ve more than a minute still left. For my ears it’s a definite highlight for the instrument in the form, seemingly nothing but a wanky show-off piece, but actually it’s executed as blues for the bass. You’re can’t really lob calls of ‘showing off’ when something is showing itself so bare. There’s honesty and sincerity in Kumalo’s work, and this is as great a showcase as any.

One thought on “Sixteen Days of Bass

  1. GRACELAND is one of my favorite of all albums growing up–just pulsating and what a collaboration with these stupendous African performers!! Terrific assessment here of this song!

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