For years bass players have been left in the basement of music: the bridge between instruments, the pulse and heartbeat that ties music together, but nothing more than a supporting role. While the instrument has historically been left in the shadows, some bassists have taken the liberty to go beyond the norm. And no city has contributed more to the evolution of how the bass is played more than Philadelphia (shameless bias). From Stanley Clarke to Christian McBride, Charlie Biddle to Victor Bailey, Philadelphia has helped move the way the bass is played forward.
The most recent bassist to be added into this line of great bassists is Blue Note recording artist, Derrick Hodge. Proficient on both the double bass and the electric bass guitar, Hodge’s resume reflects the diversity of his skillset, performing and recording with jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Robert Glasper, classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, Maxwell and others. Following his role as the musical director for Maxwell, Hodge has embarked on a few show dates in support of his sophomore album, The Second, making his first stop at Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s.
To open night, Hodge began with Table Jawn, a song whose title is an ode to his upbringing in Philadelphia, which was composed as a recording of him playing spoons on a table. Following Table Jawn, Hodge transitioned to The Real, a song that feature’s West African themed polyrhythms, and a vibrant trumpet melody that Hodge mirrored on his bass with added distortion. Consistent with Hodge’s religious roots in the church, Hodge moved into World Go Round – a quartet gospel themed song, as Hodge played the melody, rhythm, and bass lines simultaneously. Fittingly, someone in the audience yells, “preach!” as he closes the song. Connecting the genealogy of black American music, Hodge began playing Gritty Folk, a New Orleans themed song reminiscent of a second line parade.
Hodge’s prowess as a composer could be seen in his composition – Underground Rhapsody – a trap themed song, which crescendoed on the chorus with Hodge’s distorted bass guitar and drummer Mike Mitchell’s fiery drum rolls and cymbal crashes. Hodge also featured his acumen as a Hip-Hop bassist, playing a medley of songs seamlessly weaving in and out of melodies.
Closing out the night, Hodge played a moving, solo medley as his bass guitar resonated in a still room. The first song of the medley, Doxology (I Remember) – an offertory song commonly sung in Christian churches, followed by From Me To You – a love song, to God. Using both of these songs as the encore selections speaks to Hodge's spiritual and melodic sensibilities. The ability to use the bass guitar not just as an accompanying instrument, but also as a melodic one, and to use music - even jazz - as channel for spirituality and praise.