Joe Fonda is perhaps best known as Anthony Braxton's bassist of choice for much of the '90s, but also embarked on a rewarding outside career during the latter half of the decade, most notably as co-leader of the Fonda-Stevens Group. A native of the small upstate New York town of Amsterdam, Fonda came from musical stock; his parents met while performing together in a jazz orchestra. Fonda grew up interested in blues-rock and at first took guitar lessons, but switched to electric bass because none of his bandmates wanted to play it. He wound up studying bass at Berklee during the early '70s, where he delved into jazz -- particularly the avant-garde wing -- and started playing acoustic upright. Fonda recorded his first album as a leader, Looking for the Lake, in 1976 after leaving Berklee. He spent most of the early to mid-'80s playing around the New Haven, CT scene, and also performed with a dance company (both as bassist and dancer). His most notable gig of the period, though, was with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose global aesthetic helped shape Fonda's own musical philosophy; they recorded together on 1983's Procession of the Great Ancestry.
Fonda moved to New York City in the late '80s, and landed his highest-profile gig to date when he joined up with Anthony Braxton in 1994. Fonda was involved with most of Braxton's projects over the next five years, from large groups like the Tri-Centric Orchestra to the 1995 duet album Ten Compositions on Konnex; thanks to this association, he toured the world and built a stellar reputation among devotees of avant-garde jazz. In partnership with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, Fonda also performed on the side with his best-known venture as a leader, the acclaimed Fonda-Stevens Group (usually a quartet or quintet). This venture recorded for the Music & Arts (1996's The Wish, 1997's Parallel Lines) and Leo (1997's Evolution, 2000's Live at the Bunker) labels. Fonda also created an interdisciplinary variation on that group, which included tap dancer Brenda Bufolino and vocalist/body healer Vicki Dodd as equal members; together this outfit recorded From the Source for Konnex in 1998, and it was acclaimed as Fonda's most groundbreaking effort. Fonda also devoted time to other projects: the Joe Fonda Quintet (which recorded 1999's Full Circle Suite for CIMP), the entirely solo album When It's Time (1999, Jazzhalo), and a duo with Chinese guzheng player Xu Fengxia (2000's Distance for Leo). In 2002, Fonda reconvened his From the Source band for a second go-round, The Healing. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi