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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.
Mark Helias (born October 1, 1950) is an American jazz double bass player and composer born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
He did not begin playing the double bass until the age of 20, graduating from Yale University's School of Music with a Masters degree in 1976. He has also studied at Rutgers University. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, The New School, and SIM (School for Improvised Music).
Helias has performed with a wide variety of musicians, first and foremost with trombonist Ray Anderson, with whom he led the ironic 1980s avant-funk band Slickaphonics, and a trio with Gerry Hemingway on drums, formed in the late 1970s, later named BassDrumBone, and continuing to play together. Besides Helias performed with the previous members of Ornette Colemans original band, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, and Ed Blackwell, just as with musicians affiliated with the AACM, such as Anthony Braxton, Anthony Davis, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Julius Hemphill. Furthermore he played with Cecil Taylor, Marilyn Crispell, Simon Nabatov, and reed players Oliver Lake, Carlos Ward, Arthur Blythe, Don Byron, and Marty Ehrlich, whereas less usual were performances with Abbey Lincoln, Mose Allison, and J.B. Horns.
Since 1984 Mark Helias has released six recordings under his own name and further six albums leading the archetypal improvising trio Open Loose since 1996. The group comprises Helias on bass, first Ellery Eskelin, then Tony Malaby on tenor saxophone and Tom Rainey on drums.Sunderland, Celeste (2007-02-22). "Mark Helias". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2010-07-19.