Solid debut from the best bassist in a long time.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 09/02/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Every so often an artist arrives of such unnerving talent that he deserves to be noticed, usually more often than he is. Such is the case with Richard Bona, bassist, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, one-time music director for Harry Belafonte and Joe Zawinul sideman. "Scenes from My Life" is his debut album, stepping out of the shadow of those fine artists he's worked with.
Being an electric bass player in jazz means the inevitable comparisons to Jaco Pastorius need to be dealt with-- while many great bass players have been considered the heir-apparent to Jaco's legacy, I'd argue that Bona is in many ways the best bassist since Jaco. His playing is fluid, smooth, and subtle-- what made Jaco great to me, beyond his stunning talent was his ability to play subtlely. More importantly, he's his own man as a bassist-- Jaco's influence is clear, but there's no mistaking Bona's playing. Granted, Jaco always had the bass mixed way in front, and if there's a complaint to be made about "Scenes From My Life", it's that the bass is not mixed up front. His playing is sublime and really should be heard more clearly (this is a problem that is not replicated on later albums where the mix is much more bass-centric).
Sung largely in Bona's native tongue (I don't have the liner notes in front of me, but I believe the language is called duala, native to people of the Camaroon), with one exception sung in English, the songs cover a number of jazz, rock, pop and funk moods. As a vocalist, Bona's high tenor is agile enough to carry a ballad with delicacy and sensitivity and move on a funk piece. One problem though is that the mix makes few adjustments for different moods of pieces, this causes parts of the album to sort of blend together into a "background music" mode, and sometimes midtempo seems to rule.
Even in this environment, there's quite a few standout cuts here-- the gentle, groove based opener "Dipita", lovely piano-and-bass ballad "Eyala" (where Bona's bass playing, while terribly low in the mix is as Jaco-ish as it gets), funk number "Djombwe" (betraying a Stanley Clarke influence in the slap-and-pop bassline) English sung pop piece "One Minute", filled with arrangement subtleties and a fantastic bassline and strings-and-vocals "Muna Nyuwe", where Bona's vocal is filled with mournfulness and remorse without ever sounding pathetic.
All criticisms aside (and really most of them have to do with the mix more than anything else), it's a solid debut by Bona, and it's clear that there's big things to expect from him in the future-- I'd recommend starting with "Reverence" for an introduction to him-- its a bit less accessible I think, but a vastly superior record. But this is a good one and worth having."