We have had occasion to remark more than once over the years that a welcome change we’ve noticed in the bluegrass world was the regular inclusion of trained bassists in younger bands. Many a fine musician over the years has switched to bass to serve the needs of a group, and we don’t wish to dishonor their contributions, but simply notice the gratifying trend of seeing artists trained on the bass becoming a common occurrence in our music.
One such is Jeff Picker, currently bassist with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, who has a new solo project set for release October 9. Not only does he own a fortuitous name for a grasser, he also plays his instrument with skill and grace. Jeff has also toured with acts like Sarah Jarosz and Mark O’Connor, and has become a familiar face in the young Nashville bluegrass scene.
His new album is titled With The Bass In Mind, and features a sampling of Jeff’s musical tastes encompassing bluegrass, the fiddle tune idiom, and the sort of exploratory new acoustic music pioneered in the 1980s by artists like David Grisman and Tony Rice. You hear him use his bass in several different settings, sometimes as a lead instrument, as well as in its more familiar rhythmic role.
He tells us that he has some musical notions he wants to share, and enjoys fitting them into a contemporary instrumental bluegrass format.
“All of the compositions on the album are written by me. While the music is firmly rooted in the bluegrass format, my goal was to expand the harmonic and rhythmic palette a bit beyond what you might typically hear on a bluegrass record, and to make a little more room for the bass to shine, too. That essentially why I made it— I felt that I had something to say musically, with my bass and compositions, that wasn’t being said or that I wasn’t finding room to say as a sideman.
I’ve fallen in love with bluegrass and roots music, and have been lucky to have some great professional success in that world, but I have a background in jazz as well, and that music is also in my heart. So you’ll hear some influence from my jazz upbringing in this music, adapted for the string band. I wrote songs that I believe are succinct musical statements, melodic and listenable, not only vehicles for improvising (although there is a fair bit of great improvising on there!).”
A debut single is available now, Perennial, which is available when you pre-order the album via bandcamp. It falls squarely into the Grisman/Rice-inspired genre and highlights Picker’s dexterity as a soloist.
Jeff says that he is thankful to find other young players who feel the music the way he does.
“The musicians I have chosen—Mike Barnett, Dominick Leslie, Jake Stargel, Cory Walker—all share my love for bluegrass, and desire to expand upon it. They are also a rare breed of bluegrass picker with the requisite skills for my music (the ability to navigate slightly complex harmony, time signatures, and arrangements while still making it sound like bluegrass!).”
Other tracks on With The Bass In Mind find Picker exploring traditional realms like the country waltz, quirky fiddle tunes, and bluegrass barn burners. Samples of all the music can be found in Apple Music.
Pre-orders can be placed for both digital downloads and CDs through Jeff’s bandcamp page. Both include an immediate download of Perennial.