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Jim Ferguson

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Hailing Jim Ferguson as the greatest singing bassist in jazz history isn’t really much of a compliment. Only a few others come to mind: Slam Stewart and Major Holley, who hum along with their plucked and bowed improvisations, and Red Mitchell and Jay Leonhart, whose passable voices serve as vehicles to introduce their whimsical, often philosophical compositions. Nashville-based Ferguson’s pure, supple tenor is reminiscent of the young Chet Baker’s vocalizing, but Ferguson is more concerned with evoking emotions than the detached, cool-school Baker. I’ve never heard a more touching “Blame It on My Youth,” the quintessential expression of exploited naivete, or a more affecting “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” Although Ferguson favors ballads, he’s comfortable with brisker tempos, too, notably Mose Allison’s “Swingin’ Machine” and his own wry, Allisonish title tune. The 11 tracks, averaging more than five minutes each, allow generous solo space for Chris Potter’s liquescent tenor saxophone, Pat Coil’s ruminative piano, and Ferguson’s articulate bass. As a purely instrumental album, Not Just Another Pretty Bass would bear comparison with the work of Paul Desmond, Bill Evans, and their kindred romanticists. With the complement of Ferguson’s heartfelt vocal interpretations of a first-rate repertoire, his CD rates among the most accomplished jazz debuts in years.—Joel E. Siegel