Bassist/composer Adi Meyerson not only hears music, but she sees it. “I have this thing called synesthesia,” she said during a recent interview at Jazz at Lincoln Center, explaining that her brain is wired to link sound with colors, letters, and numbers. Arguably, a synesthete’s approach to music may not be ordinary, but Meyerson is not an ordinary musician. Intuitive and perspicacious, she displays a musical maturity that belies her newcomer status.
Meyerson released her debut album Where We Stand (A:M Records) this past June, four years after graduating from a joint program between The Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. Listening to the album, it’s hard to believe that Meyerson had only been playing upright for eight months when she auditioned for the program; she’d developed her rhythm chops playing rock and fusion on the electric bass during high school. But at her audition the late Israeli pianist/composer Amit Golan, founder of the Center for Jazz Studies at the Israel Conservatory, saw something in the young player and brought her into the program despite her limited acoustic experience. He then urged her to move in that direction. “I owe him my career in jazz. He didn’t give up on the fact that I wasn’t very good,” said Meyerson.
Whatever her starting point, there’s no denying Meyerson’s virtuosic command of her instrument today. Since she moved to New York in 2012, she’s played some of the city’s best venues—Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Smalls, Smoke Jazz, and, for her album release, Jazz Standard—and she’s shared the bandstand with established luminaries as diverse as saxophonist Joel Frahm, drummer Charli Persip, and singer-pianist Champion Fulton. Beyond her work in others’ ensembles, she also leads a quintet that performs her own original music.
“I remember when she first showed up on the New York jazz scene,” said Frahm in a phone call after a concert at the Vitoria-Gasteiz Jazz Festival in Spain this summer. “[I was] impressed by her presence, and because the acoustic bass is such a challenging instrument. It’s rare to see young people who have so much poise.”
Frahm was the senior-most player on the new album, a collection of nine originals that reflect Meyerson’s five years of personal and musical development upon moving to New York. The earliest composition on the recording, “Little Firefly,” features Frahm on a skittering, artful solo and masterful vocalist Camila Meza singing Meyerson’s enticing melody and pensive lyrics; the tune evokes clear yet shifting visual images. In contrast, the latest composition on the recording, “Where We Stand,” is more abstract and harmonically complex. “I wrote it [only] a month before the session and had a question mark on it when we went into the studio,” Meyerson said. “But I took the first take and it became the title track.”
While Meyerson hesitates to delineate a clear evolution in her composing, she admits that over the last few years her work has become deeper, more meaningful. Of late, she’s been trying to stretch herself, she says, experimenting with open forms and melodies that start at one place and end in another. Artistically, it’s an ongoing process. “I’m still learning how to play my own music….It [takes] a lot of listening back and realizing that this doesn’t work or that this sounds good. It took me a long time to be able to say that and believe it,” she admitted.
As a bandleader, though, Meyerson displays no hint of doubt about what she wants from her music or her collaborators. “The thing that sticks out to me…. is that she has a really strong idea of who she wants to be as a musician and is committed to that direction,” observed Frahm.
When asked about what that direction might be, Meyerson doesn’t hesitate to respond. On her to-do list is a strings project that is less about jazz, maybe with electric bass. She’ll continue to work with her quintet, and perhaps they’ll record a standards album. She also wants to do a bassist tribute project, where she performs lesser-known tunes by composer-bassists like herself. And, most intriguingly, she is looking to write a five-piece suite of new music based on the work of Japanese sculptor Yayoi Kusama, whose intense, multi-hued art triggers sonic explosions in Meyerson’s brain. “Her colors are like…sound everywhere,” she said.
Meyerson agreed that the list is a long one, and she’s not really sure what will come next. “Right now they’re just theoretical ideas,” she concluded.
(Reprinted from the September 2018 issue of Downbeat)