Achieving international recognition through his 40-year career as a bassist and as an award-winning producer, composer, and recording engineer, Dan Dean is a truly multi-faceted artist constantly seeking new challenges and outlets for expressing the music he hears. For his debut vocal recording, Dean came about it in a very roundabout way. In preparation for a recording of solo bass with string orchestra, Dean arranged works by JS Bach, Vivaldi, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Albinoni. With the budget and organizational constraints of recording large ensembles, Dean decided to try adapting the arrangements to his voice. What began as a “what if” experiment turned into a musically ambitious, technically challenging effort. Often angelic, or haunting, or exuberant, “Songs Without Words” is a culmination of his musical experiences over a lifetime, captured by a single microphone.
MUSIC REVIEW BY DAN MCCLENAGHAN, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
4 1/2 STARS Bassist Dan Dean’s original plan for this project was the hiring of sixteen string players to join him in the studio to record a set for solo bass with string orchestra: Vivaldi’s Concerto For Lute and Orchestra in D Major, along with music from JS Bach, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Albononi. The cost for the project proved prohibitive, but the paucity of funds turned out to be the mother of innovation. Dean tackled the project alone, adapting his arrangements to his overdubbed voice, accompanied by his bass.
Like the groundbreaking 1968 recording, Switched-On Bach (Columbia Masterworks), an audacious exploration by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos of JS Bach’s music on the then-new Moog synthesizer, Dean breaks with tradition on Songs Without Words. The opener, Bach’s “Air on a G String Suite No. 3 in D Major,” sounds like a choir of angels, like a soundtrack to an entrance to Heaven, with sweetly layered vocals soaring over subtle bass notes. Rimsey-Korsaksoff’s familiar “Flight of the Bumblebee” swarms with an insectile feverishness.
Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D Major” serves as the centerpiece of the set. With sparser vocal layering – and more pronounced bass lines – this three part, ten minute immersion in the piece is beautifully transcendent, a reverent treatment of the music with a unique approach to making it.
Thoughts that come to mind upon multiple listenings to Songs Without Words: The relative affordability of setting up a personal recording studio can have freeing effect on the artist; that’s the case here. Like Switched-On Bach, nobody’s tried this out before. Unlike Switched-On Bach, these are pure organic, human sounds, lovelier and more alluring than the exact but stiffer experience of the early Moog.
Dan Dean boasts a forty year career as a producer/composer/recording engineer/recording artist. It’s a fine surprise to hear him—an artist capable of recording a killer version of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” with organist Larry Goldings, on Dean’s terrific 2 5 1 (Origin Records, 2010) – involve himself in a personal and highly successful immersion into an unorthodox classical music journey.
MUSIC REVIEW BY GEORGE W. HARRIS, JAZZ WEEKLY
Wanna know what heaven is going to sound like? Grab a hold of this album and you’ll at least have a hint.
Dan Dean supplies layers of his voice as well as an occasional bass and whistle to this wonderfully arranged collection of “classic” classics. His wordless vocals create an ethereal mood that floats with sublime joy on Bach’s “Air on a G String” while he makes you feel like you’re in a dream on “The Sheep May Safely Graze.” Dean creates a ton of fun with a vocalese-like scat on “Flight of the Bumblebee” and does some amazing tongue twisting during “Night on Bald Mountain.” A three movement “Concerto for Lute and Orchestra” by Vivaldi includes a stately “Allegro” a mix of reverent voice and bass, taking you through a Baroque cathedral with sounds almost like an organ pipe on the closing “Allegro.” An album delivered like this cannot be a gimmick, it must be considered a worldview.
RINGER OF THE WEEK
MUSIC REVIEW BY CHRIS LUNN, ANCIENT VICTORYS
This is an unusual and special project. Dan Dean is known for his own groups, recording and mixing, and his collaborations with Tom Collier. I first encountered his works with a couple of different groups at the Other Side of the Tracks in the mid 70s along with his work with Collier, with whom he has been musical buddies even in their teenage years. His bass work and sound is found in many recording groups and engineers, because of Dean’s musicality and knowing how to record and work his sound.
I am not a classical music critic by a long shot, but this is a little different. Dean uses just his own voice, bass, and whistle on this recording. Though he is not known as a vocalist, he has a long history of singing in his family, with his mother a country-western performer who played guitar wit Bonnie Guitar. Dean has backed singers like BB King, Ernestine Anderson, Peggy Lee, Dionne Warwick, Brothers Four, Della Reese and Diane Schuur, among others, but those were as a happy backup bass player. Now Dean moves his voice out front, using all his vast recording equipment and multi-track knowledge on these classical pieces, most of which you and I are familiar with.
Opening is Bach’s “Air on a G String Suite # 3 in D Major” that has multi-tracked voices; gorgeous, warm, a simple choral building, extensions, just a touch of bass. You keep thinking there is singing as you hum along or pick out vocal parts, much as you might with a top choir. All these works have multi-tracked Dean vocals without words.
“Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakoff is a piece that many of you who took piano lessons used to marvel at and say “I want to do that some day.” Think I first heard it on a 78rpm by Freddie Slack from my mother’s collection of jazz and classical. And it will capture you here in the high-speed vocal sounds flying at you from every angle and drilling into your core. Tight, pure fun with no place to breathe as you listen. Fun, superb arrangement and unbelievable technical talent combine to allow the speed to work and not get blurred. Always challenging, and you say how is that possible?
Next is the three movements from Vivaldi, “Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D Major.” Movement 1, Allegro, has voices building the melody and counterpoint vocal lines, working with the volume and punch and bringing in his amplified bass line to anchor places. He is able to clearly develop the complexity, the volume, the intensity of the song. Love the dancing bass taking the lead and the voices then moving in. He develops that further in the melody, the trade, releasing and then building and snapping the bass or the voices home all in a superb and difficult achievement. “Movement 2, Largo,” the loping bass opens with voices just touching and hinting the harmonies, letting the bass take the solo. Dean walks, touches the lines. He finds the holds to move the bass into a more direct contact with the vocal lines. Think of this as a glorious bass work with a clean clear movement that will keep you glued to this gorgeous piece. “Movement 3, Allegro,” is a short finish wit pulsing, probing vocal lines and then quick bass response working with each other just the way the lines are in the original but you have it here in bass and vocal call and response lines.
Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” is an eleven-minute exploration of this classic. He begins with vocal sound opening with a rhythmic pulse similar to the “Bumble Bee” and with the dizzy push and then open raspy vocal sounds, followed by almost Elmer Bernstein-sounding arrangements. Tight little vocal note shots with a rhythmic core and cementing. It is clean and exhilarating. You will be taken back to greet this very unusual piece within a new framework. Dean’s ability to create the volume, complexity, and timing is genius at work. You get an undertone of bass to bring the voices to the front, bowed bass to feel the high voices, pulsing the mid vocal. The texture is always moving, interpreting the song in this new genre. The quiet bass work in the last quarter of the piece is perfect with light vocal ending.
Bach’s “The Sheep May Safely Graze” has bass that opens and could be either bass or voice or both, and then the vocal melody line moves in loving choir-like vocals, taking you into the cathedral, never overbearing, loving, flowing and building. Dean draws you into the heart of the choir mode. A loving beauty building with ebb and flow.
Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor” closes the collection, and I am the least familiar with this. The bowed bass and mid low voices bring again a choir-like beauty to the flowing lines, all elegant soothing and full. The few high vocals flowing back to mid range work very well. Later, the bowed bass and elegant exquisite quiet clarity works very well. The vocal lines develop in a full, clean, perfectly executed time signature and with such definition. bowed bass and vocal touches close.
Engaging, phenomenal work, which I hope finds a lot of listeners across many genres. This is groundbreaking work by both a musical and recording master. Kudos to Origin for taking on this project. It is a major highlight of their releases.
Packaging is in a jewel box, not my favorite these days; they break in shipping and shelf holders. Mine did. But the six-panel booklet is well done with original art work on the cover. An explanation of the how, why, and the complexity of this project, and of the family history that led to this work are included. Picture is excellent, and the titles and times are on the cover along with contact info; same for a back page insert. Just the titles and contact are on the CD. Binding has clear info for shelf retrieval; John Bishop did the cover design. Wow!
MUSIC REVIEW BY DAN MCCLENAGHAN, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
TOP TEN OF 2017 – And lastly – something not jazz: Bassist Dan Dean has created a set of sounds as innovative, in its way, as the 1968’s Moog synthesizer-driven Switched on Bach (Columbia Masterworks, 1968), from the forward thinking Walter (Now Wendy) Carlos. Crafting a polar opposite of sorts of the legendary Carlos set, Dean – with just his bass and his overdubbed voice – shapes a gorgeous, soaring, ephemeral sound, drawing from Bach, Vivaldi and more from the classical world.
MUSIC REVIEW BY RAUL DA GAMA, JAZZDAGAMA
After years of playing and producing music for musicians such as vibraphonist Tom Collier, the virtuoso bassist – and it turns out one with rather operatic intentions – and master of the art of whistling as well Dan Dean steps out and into his own studio to record quite magical versions of chorales, arias and concertos without nothing but his velvet tenor, his trusted bass and the art of whistling – all on the disc entitled Songs without Words.
Expectations are understandably high at the prospect of a formidable musician Dan Dean, graduating into the sphere (particularly) of a J.S. Bach and Vivaldi neophyte, cutting his teeth on the classics, so to speak. Both the Air and the cantata at the end of the disc represent a great instrumental and a choral work each and they bookend (well, almost) a work by Rimsky-Korsakoff that music be performed at a diabolically-fast tempo, with ponderous gravity as the Mussorgsky, a memorable work by Albinoni and a breathtakingly complex one by Vivaldi.
These intimate pieces allow Mr. Dean to exhibit his distinguished credentials in music both embracing classical, particularly baroque style and a single-voice chorale – none of which can be accomplished easily by any stretch of the imagination. But he really does live up to his musical gifts on both counts with clear, soft textures redolent of 17th century baroque rhetoric. At his best, such the range of puckish to sober in the contrapuntal bass-line-melody-oriented versions of the “Air on a G String from Suite No. 3 in D Major”, the layered voices and single bass instrument constitutes a remarkably crystalline landscape.
Appropriate emotional restraint also offers some ear-pricking moments: the largo movement of Vivaldi’s Lute concerto highlights Mr. Dean’s exquisite arrangement bringing attention to his orchestral abilities and the highpoint of the air and the chorale affectingly accentuates Bach’s poignant writing. Worth noting throughout is the muscular engagement of the music which is heightened by the stylish transcriptions on Mr. Dean’s part. Best of all is Mr. Dean’s ability to portray the rhythmic elasticity and suspended animation of all of the composers’ – particularly Bach’s – work, which grows this work in a brand new dimension, together with giants like Bobby McFerrin, this, because the vocal delivery is brilliant when exposed to Bach’s already demanding multi-toned coloratura.
The overall impression is one of music-making of the highest order, which plumbs the depths of all of the emotions from wonderful joys to abject lamentations.
MUSIC REVIEW BY CHRIS SPECTOR, MIDWEST RECORD
Recording on Mercer Island and giving the first special thanks credit to Nancy Rumbel – do you think this is going to be your usual egghead classical date? The protean bass player surrounds himself with his ax and his voice and a mic taking warhorse repertoire to places you’d never imagine. Deciding to do it for himself this time around, the unquestionable bass ace takes it to church and everyplace else in the course of this sterling recital. Played like it was made especially for you, Dean’s limitless possibilities will blow you away. Hot stuff.
MUSIC REVIEW BY MELINDA BARGREEN, AUTHOR AND MUSIC CRITIC
Dan Dean will redefine what you think is possible to achieve with the human voice. In this recording, he makes his voice an orchestra that “plays” spectacular classics like Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” but it’s all honest singing: actual sung notes, not sampled and manipulated electronically, What a range, vocally and stylistically; how subtle and artful the compilation of these tracks; what fine musicianship and ear-opening performances. Prepare to be astonished.