Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
A versatile bassist with a particular flair for the avant-garde, Mark Helias is also an underappreciated composer, and no slouch with a funk groove either. Helias was born in Brunswick, N.J., in 1950, and didn't begin playing bass until age 20; however, he wound up studying music at Yale, graduating in 1976. In 1977, he formed BassDrumBone with trombonist Ray Anderson and drummer Gerry Hemingway, and began appearing as a sideman on albums by the likes of Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman, Barry Altschul, and Anthony Davis. In 1981, Helias co-founded the free funk ensemble Slickaphonics with Anderson, and contributed a significant number of compositions to the group's repertoire. Helias' first album as a leader came for Enja in 1984 with Split Image. In 1985, he co-founded the world-fusion group Nu, along with Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Carlos Ward, and Nana Vasconcelos. The group split in 1987 and Helias recorded his second album, The Current Set; it was followed by Desert Blue two years later. In addition, Helias performed as a sideman with (among others) Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, Oliver Lake, and Mose Allison, not to mention the J.B. Horns. In 1992, Helias recorded the quartet/quintet album Attack the Future and had his composition "Upside the Downside" premiered by the String Trio of New York. 1994 brought Loopin' the Cool, his last major studio project for several years. During the late '90s, Helias formed a trio called Open Loose, which initially featured drummer Tom Rainey and Ellery Eskelin on tenor; they debuted on 1998's Come Ahead Back, his first album not released by Enja. In 1999, Tony Malaby replaced Eskelin (captured on the 2000 live recording New School), and Gerald Cleaver began taking Rainey's place at times. In addition, Helias also performed in a duo with fellow bassist Mark Dresser.