Bass Players to Know: Bunny Brunel
Like any aspiring bass player, I went through a “fusion phase” (otherwise known as college). I spent countless hours infatuated with complicated harmony, the wild and masterful displays of technical ability, and the jammiest of jams. It wasn’t long before I discovered the CAB albums featuring Tony MacAlpine, Dennis Chambers, Brian Auger, and bass player Bunny Brunel. This quickly sent me down a rabbit hole of fast paced licks, chord extensions, and the world of instrumental music. Years later, I’ve had an opportunity to revisit some of the CAB records and dig a bit deeper into Brunel’s catalogue of work with artists including Chick Corea, Mike Stern, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, and countless others. Between his signature basses, educational books and DVDs, and extensive career as a composer and producer, Brunel is an obvious choice for a Bass Player To Know.
So Who Is Bunny Brunel?
Brunel grew up in France and began playing bass as a teenager. While he was mostly self-taught, he did attend a music conservatory to focus on upright technique and later ventured into fretless bass. Heavily influenced by jazz and Brazillian music, he spent most of his twenties working with various artists and touring through Europe. While performing in London at Ronnie Scott’s, he was introduced to Chick Corea who invited him to come to the United States. Brunel joined Corea’s band and recorded the albums Secret Agent, Tap Step, and Summer Jam, 1979: Live Under the Sky; this quickly solidified him as a force to be reckoned with in the jazz community.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990’s, Brunel also worked with artists including jazz trumpeter Allen Vizzutti and guitarist Kazumi Watanabe. He began stretching out as a composer and producer by releasing solo records such as Ivanhoe, For You To Play, and Momentum. By the early 2000s, he collaborated with jazz heavyweights Tony MacAlpine, Dennis Chambers, Brian Auger, and others for the CAB project, earning a few Grammy nominations. Between his work with CAB, Brunel’s solo records, and the “Bunny Brunel & Friends” projects that feature players such as Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, and Steve Bailey, he continues to be a prominent figure in the musical community.
Let’s Talk Style
A technical virtuoso, Brunel continues to carry the torch of boundary-pushing jazz and fusion. His original compositions and the collaborations with CAB focus on integrating various forms of right-hand technique, from laid-back finger style playing, to rapid-fire sixteenth note grooves, to slap and pop. Brunel adds another lay of rhythmic complexity with a particularly versatile fretting hand; his slap and pop grooves rely heavily on hammer-ons, pull-offs, and open strings. Utilizing the full range of the instrument, his bass lines are intricate, catchy, and creative.
Excelling on upright, electric, and fretless bass, his compositions highlight and explore the sonic possibilities of each instrument. As a fretless player, he utilizes the unique capabilities and bass—harmonics, long slides, and the signature tone of the instrument. He integrates the distinctive rhythms of Latin and African music, again playing to the tone and feel of the fretless. Brunel’s compositions and style conjure images of Jaco, Bona, and Clarke, yet they reflect his own personality and voice as a superb instrumentalist.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Bass Ackward” (CAB: Cab 4)
This tune prominently features Brunel’s technical mastery with the slapped and hammer-on heavy opening line. The B section settles into the pocket with an intensely funky groove with root-octave jumps, up-beat accents, and generous usage of whole and half step toggling. An intricate transition gives way to solos; Bunny integrates harmonics, melodic phrases, and blazing ascending patterns before returning to the A and B sections of the song.
Dede (Bunny Brunel: Ivanhoe)
This high-energy tune embraces the 70s era, Jaco-esque sixteenth note groove. Accompanied by a slinky rhythm guitar and punchy horn lines, Brunel plays with an aggressive and staccato approach, accenting the lead lines with quick fretless jumps to the higher register. The slap bass breakdown serves as a stanky bed for the solos to lie in before transitioning to third section featuring a fretless groove. Brunel utilizes the high harmonics, quick triplet lines, and descending slides that speak well on the fretless.
“Everywhere” (Bunny Brunel & Friends: Café Au Lait)
Showcasing Brunel’s mellow and melodic side, he transports the listener to a relaxed jazz café. A far more organic sounding recording, this composition relies on traditional combo instrumentation, with Brunel taking the melody on the fretless bass. He then switches to upright to support the piano and trumpet solos, assuming a solid and supportive role as the trumpet plays the final melody.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Bunny Brunel? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!