Tag Archives: bass guitar

February 2018 – different senses – in Birmingham, Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter’s Illuminated Loops (25th February); in London, Nest Collective’s Queer As Folk with Sam Gleaves and Landless (28th February)

14 Feb

A couple of quick dips into wider worlds, with minimal blather from me..

* * * * * * * *

This isn’t the first time I’ve featured the audio-visual collaborations of jeweller and live artist Poppy Porter and multilayering bass guitar maestro Steve Lawson, but if you haven’t heard of/seen either of them before, nor encountered their unusual duo approach, here’s an opportunity to go and immerse yourself at a new show in Steve’s current home town of Birmingham…

Steve Lawson & Poppy Porter - 'Illuminated Loop', 25th February 2018

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter: Illuminated Loops
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 25th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

“Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter bring their amazing music and live art show to Birmingham. Steve plays his textured bass guitar loops, Poppy draws what she sees. Poppy is synaesthetic – she “sees” sound, and as the images appear on the paper, Steve treats the emerging art as a graphic score, folding it back into the music in way that creates a glorious feedback loop of art influencing art. It’s an immersive experience, to watch the art take shape before your eyes, to hear the music morph and twist as it is improvised in response to the art.”

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, the Nest Collective (in collaboration with internationally-minded arts inspirers Dash Arts) have been broadening their commitment to presenting and celebrating the breadth and ongoing relevance of folk music by staging Queer As Folk, “an ongoing series of events celebrating the work of LGBTQ+ artists working in folk, world, and roots music”.

I don’t feel well-equipped to dig into this topic in depth yet. Most straight blokes such as myself who start digging – even with the best intentions – into LGBTQ+ history and culture tend to find it rapidly and explosively unfolding into our faces like a long-compressed jack-in-the-box… or, more accurately, as if someone’s abruptly whisked our blinkers away and we find ourselves in the heart of a bustling, previously invisible party (with its own long-running stories of love and loss, inspiration and pain, quarrels and solidarity, bullying and resistance). It’s quite jolting – although often inspiring – to be confronted with one’s own ignorance.

During my own lifetime, while lesbian women have had an long-established presence in the singer-songwriter field (the redoubtable Holly Near and Joan Armatrading in the ’70s, Melissa Etheridge and Judy Small in the ’80s, the Indigo Girls in the ’90s, to name just the obvious few), it’s been more difficult to identify other aspects of the queer spectrum within folk unless you were already deep in the scene or privileged with word-of-mouth knowledge. Still, all of that is there – as, indeed, it’s everywhere – and this gig, while first and foremost an occasion for good music, should help any fresh attendees to open up a new perspective (and perhaps offer some new interpretations of folk traditions with their shifting tales of love, lust, disguise and transformations).

Enough of me and my vagueness. Here’s Nest Collective’s matter-of-fact briefing for the evening: the rest can just be learned in time…

Queer As Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless, 28th February 2018

The Nest Collective & Dash Arts present:
Queer as Folk: Sam Gleaves + Landless
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 28th February 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

“Born and raised in southwest Virginia, Sam Gleaves performs innovative mountain music with a sense of history. Sam carries on the ballads, dance music and storytelling he learned from numerous mentors in the Appalachian tradition including multi-instrumentalist Jim Lloyd and ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams. He tours extensively in the U.S. and, in 2016, toured the UK supporting Peggy Seeger.

In 2015, Sam collaborated with producer Cathy Fink and released a debut record of original songs, titled Ain’t We Brothers. In 2017, he appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival and brought forth a new eponymous record with his singing partner Tyler Hughes, a fellow southwest Virginian steeped in the region’s musical traditions, which has received glowing reviews… Appalachian novelist Lee Smith has heralded Sam as “the best young songwriter around… courageous as hell and country to the bone.”


 
Landless are Ruth Clinton, Meabh Meir, Sinead Lynch and Lily Power. They sing unaccompanied traditional songs from Irish, Scottish, English and American traditions in close four-part harmony. Their repertoire features songs of love, death and lamentation, as well as work songs, shape-note hymns and more recently penned folk songs. They’ve performed in a variety of settings, both in Ireland and abroad, and are closely involved with traditional singing sessions in Dublin and Belfast.”


 

Upcoming live events – Steve Lawson plays in Poole, Birmingham & London; the Ian Smith 50th birthday event at the Vortex

24 Jun

Gregarious loop bassist Steve Lawson has announced (at pretty short notice) three gigs in England over the coming week. As ever, they’ll be a tuneful/melodic/noisy hybrid of jazz, pop, electronic and ambient influences squeezed through Steve’s battery of sound treatments, and salted by the usual mixture of stand-up comedy, general gabby friendliness and opinionation; the last of which isn’t a word, but is a pretty good definition of what Steve does when he’s not playing, and sometimes when he is playing. At a Lawson gig you get the whole brand, and then some. You can take your family; you can take your friends; you can take a donkey whose legs are in need of a bit of honing…

Steve Lawson live

Steve Lawson + Echo Engine + others (SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1NE, UK, Thursday June 25th – 8.30pm, £8.50 )

This is the one which counts as a full gig – a solo Steve Lawson set, after which he’ll be joined by the Echo Engine trio (Daniel Biro on keyboards, ) plus ex Bjork/D’Influence drummer Pascal Consoli and the ECM-inspired saxophonist Jon Lloyd. Up-to-date info is here and here, and you can reserve your ticket via email here.

Scott Pellegrom + Andy Edwards + Adam Gammage (Birmingham Dream Cymbals Day @ Glee Club, Birmingham, B5 4TD, UK – Sunday June 28th, 6.00pm – £10.00/£15.00)

This is actually a drum clinic appearance, at which Steve will be playing with drummer and regular collaborator Andy Edwards. Up-to-date info is here and tickets are here. Also performing are Adam Gammage (Baxter Dury band) and Scott Pellegrom.

Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20

Steve will be performing at this expansive celebratory gig for London Improvisers Orchestra founder Ian Smith – an event so substantial that it needs its own section further down this post. Steve will be playing in the 10pm slot alongside drummer Jason Cooper and guitarist Reeves Gabrels (both currently members of The Cure). Tickets here: more on the event in a moment.

As usual, Steve has plenty of other things going on, not least an appearance at The One Dayer: Independent Music, Money & Tech conference at Cecil Sharp House in London on July 1st, where (as a longstanding advocate of independent artist-run music careers) he’ll be one of the speakers. He’s also planning further collaborations with loop vocalist/beatboxer Beardyman (having previously played with him in a “dream team” improvising quartet alongside drummer Andy Gangadeen and guitar journeyman Gary Lucas), with fellow bass guitarists Divinity Roxx and Jonas Hellborg (the latter for an October tour) and with Jon Thorne’s semi-experimental Sunshine Brothers trio (for an August appearance at the Manchester Jazz Festival. If you want to read about what he did earlier in his career, here are links to the ‘Misfit City’ archive reviews of ‘And Nothing But The Bass‘, ‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘, ‘Conversations‘ and the first in the ‘Lessons Learned From An Ancient Feline‘ series, early steps on a path of explorations and musical hook-ups.

*****

And now, some more on the Ian Smith birthday event at the Vortex at the end of the month, which sees a remarkable lineup of British jazz players and other improvisers swarm into Dalston to pay tribute to one of their own living heroes. (Hopefully the timings I’ve cited here are right, as the layouts in the original postings are a little confusing…)

Ian Smith 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex

Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20

Ian MacGowan (aka Smith) arrived in London in 1990 from Dublin with two phone numbers in his hand: John Stevens and Derek Bailey. Those were the only two numbers he wanted at the time, but as the months went on he got to know and play with many amazing musicians – he founded The Gathering with Maggie Nichols, and the London Improvisers Orchestra with Steve Beresford and Evan Parker. He ended up playing and recording with John and Derek, and plays with anybody who wants to start from nothing. Most of tonight’s cast are old friends; some new; all are beautifully personal voices. He’ll be playing with most of them.

In the Square, 6.00pm:
Henry Lowther, Byron Wallen – trumpets
Julian Faultless – french horn
Alan Tomlinson, Sarah Gail Brand, Ed Lucas – trombones
Oren Marshall, Dave Powell – tubas
Steve Beresford – occasional conductor

In the Vortex downstairs, 7.00pm:
Pete McPhail – alto sax
Tom Wheatley – bass
Steve Noble – drums

In the Vortex upstairs, 8.00pm
BJ Cole – pedal steel
Ansuman Biswas – percussion

In the Vortex upstairs, 9.00pm:
Rowland Sutherland – flutes
Marcio Mattos – bass

In the Vortex upstairs, 9.30pm:
Sibyl Madrigal – poetry

In the Vortex upstairs, 10.00pm:
Reeves Gabrels – guitar
Steve Lawson – bass guitar
Jason Cooper – drums

and more special guests to be confirmed.

Tickets here.

REVIEW – Steve Lawson: ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt. 1’ album, 2002 (“a serious experimental musician as well as a family-friendly melody man”)

23 Sep

Steve Lawson: 'Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline - Pt 1'

Steve Lawson: ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline – Part 1’

Dedicating an entire album to a cat sounds unforgivably twee, but Steve Lawson really couldn’t care less. He’s probably immune to any such embarrassment, having long fostered an image as The Cuddly Solo Bass Player (This included a stint braving potentially fatal scorn from Level 42 fans, when he played some unmanly support slots to their heroes while wearing angora coats, glitterball T-shirts and heterosexual nail varnish. If he isn’t immune to embarrassment, at least he can claim that that’s something Paul Simonon never had the balls to do.) There’s also solidity to his gesture: the cat in question is Steve’s old and ailing Abyssinian, and Steve himself is a firm believer in the lessons gained from loving our companions (pets included) and learning to accept their ageing and their eventual deaths.

Originally ‘Lessons Learned From An Ancient Feline Pt 1’ was a free companion release for the second Steve Lawson album – ‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘. As such, it’s inevitably less ordered. At the crudest summary, it’s an outtakes-plus kind of release compiling the bits of the ‘…Chicken’ sessions which didn’t fit comfortably onto the main album. Even so it gives a surprisingly effective rough’n’ready look at Lawson’s prolific and wide-ranging talent. The lover of pretty tunes who’s also a serious gear-hound and sound-mangler; the electronic texture looper who’ll groove like Gilberto. The distorted beat-science meddler with a thoroughly un-ironic taste for playing Fly Me To The Moon straight with no chaser or spoiler.

On the easy side, there are a couple of bits of Lawson the Latin lover. The opening One Hip Cat is a twangy Brazilian-style guitar study, allowing him to display some accomplished jazzy chops inside its lazy summery breeziness. There’s a hint of what’s to come via in the shape of the occasional odd drones undercutting the music; drifting in like the suspicion of sharky shadows deep below blue lagoon water. Here Endeth The Lesson is one of Steve’s loop-assisted live collaborations with himself – a duet between a slow Latin rhythm bass with a pillowy tone and a solo fretless bass carrying the tune. The latter (high and tenor-y) sings off into the dusk with an impeccable spacey melodicism, ultimately sliding away into a sleeper’s fade.

Either of these two pieces could have fitted into a summer jazz festival of samba and ice cream, and they’d also have matched those glitterball T-shirts. Two neighbouring pieces definitely couldn’t. Cute names notwithstanding, both Framulous Jam and Evil Harv’s Evil Empire are discombobulated systems music. Like everything else on the album, they’re generated solely by Steve’s bass guitar and effects rack in real time. Unlike the easy-on-the-ear pieces, they sound thoroughly electronic and abstracted.

Evil Harv’s Evil Empire arrays fast and atonal binary-on-off hums, mingling them with suspension-bridge twangs and plucks and snips. Interrupt silences and backward sounds are stewed into the brew, before all is ultimately rendered into a backdrop for some of Lawson’s roaming, unbounded glissandi. In Framulous Jam, harmonic chime-chords are worried gently by electronic interrupts, setting up interesting conflicts between hanging sustain and random blip-jitters. Both could sidle into those earnest meets in obscure juice bars, haunted by men from ‘The Wire’ intent on watching other men frown over gurgling laptops.

Ultimately, the album’s centrepiece is the saccharin-titled but sonically stretching two-parter Sleep Eat Snuggle Repeat. In the first part, angelic traces of sustained E-bow bass – thrillingly vocal – move between foggy front of cold and warm textures, exchanging almost imperceptibly. In echoing caverns beyond, pings ring like stressed piano notes, clocks tick, water drops, wah-pedals disgorge diffuse gushes of sound, and bubble-motors pulse and spurt. Part two builds on the preceding one. A float of sounds and traces are punctuated, now and again, by a giant organ-like roar as the digital stops are eased out. It’s pure abstract indulgence, but mightily effective. It sounds like the dreams of a flea on a whale.

The big joke is that behind the twee titles lurks Steve’s most bizarre album yet, and one which stakes his most effective claim to being a serious experimental musician as well as a family-friendly melody man. What was the most important lesson which Steve Lawson learned from his cat? Why, to move when you least expect it…

Steve Lawson: ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 1’
Pillow Mountain Records/Bandcamp, PMR 0013(B) (no barcode)
CD-R/download album
Released: 2nd September 2002

Buy it from:
Bandcamp, download only. The original release was a CD-R included with early orders of ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’: some copies may be in circulation second-hand.

Steve Lawson online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Soundcloud

REVIEW – William Maxwell: ‘Cardinal Points’ album, 2001 (“a delicacy and poise John Williams would admire”)

26 Jul
William Maxwell: 'Cardinal Points'

William Maxwell: ‘Cardinal Points’

Of course, no American musicians ever bear grudges about the demand for fake country bands to fill America’s bars. Nor about the rules of economics and averages, which mean that most professional rock or jazz musicians have to spend a significant part of their career biting their lips while propelling a Formica hoe-down tune towards a beer-splattered dance floor.

William Maxwell’s composition, Bass-ically Country, has nothing to do with this. Nope. It must be a coincidence: the way he keeps pulling his multi-tracked bass guitar out from the cage of those diddly riffs and hilariously plodding walking-blues lines and firing it up into more interesting concepts (a snappy little Stanley Clarke line; a crashing feedback-drenched heavy-metal solo; a dawnlit ambient moment) only to have it yanked back into line and back into the walk.

For about four tongue-in-cheek minutes, you’re getting a portrait of Dreamy Bassist with Ideas locked in combat with Insensitive Band, losing most of the battles but not giving up on the war. Maxwell (generally found playing bass for pan-European/Celtic proggies Tempest) has obviously been there and done that, and is able to laugh at it. Inevitably, Bass-ically Country brings back memories of the late-’80s bass showman Stuart Hamm and his rollicking banjo-slap pisstakes. Some of the aforementioned Dreamy Bassist’s little lines are quite silly, after all, though the naiveté is charming.

In reality, Maxwell’s a much more thoughtful musician than this jokey sketch of bassline frustration suggests. As for dreaming… Well, while the sonic ambitions of his ‘Cardinal Points’ album are sometimes held back by budget (and by too much reliance on predictable synth presets), they’re still very much audible. Deploying his armoury of four-, five-, six- and eight-stringed basses (and backing himself up with some cosy keyboards and percussion), William sets out to explore a typically Western American breadth of music. Melodic electric jazz, New Age, funk-rock, Celtic and light prog influences all gel together. Even the dreaded country music is welcomed into the stew.

Though Maxwell shares Hamm’s taste for transposing classical music onto electric bass, he has a far greater understanding of his source material. His version of Scarlatti’s Sonata In D – baroque harpsichord music arranged for a choir of multi-tracked basses – is particularly impressive. It demonstrates a real understanding of both Scarlatti’s ecstatic mathematics and of that fussy enthusiasm that’s part of the harpsichord sound; while cunningly adding a smidgen of American swing (straight out of Chet Atkins’ Classical Gas). The gently blossoming study of Sweet Dreams (drawing on his early classical guitar training) sees Maxwell pluck a six-string bass with a delicacy and poise John Williams would admire.

Still, technique is a secondary matter on ‘Cardinal Points’. Despite Maxwell’s dexterity, he isn’t offering us a player’s album. He’s as happy when playing a child’s melody or chord wash on synth as he is executing twiddly turnarounds on bass. His true interest is in composition and arranging – his basses are dragooned into illustrating his musical ideas, not flying along on top of them. Rather than pursuing The Great Solo, he spends his time on constructing latticeworks of harmonic chimes, or on an agreeable rumble of conversing fretless and fretted instruments.

The Gold Rush is one of the only moments where Maxwell gives in to any boy-racer super-soloist desires. Fortunately, he does this with jollity instead of arrogance; building himself a piece of music full of skipping strums and curvy chromed planes of distorted EBow sustain, which bounces like an off-road vehicle. Rich Bradley injects a shot of serious jazz, providing a burst of antsy soprano sax (Dave Liebman style) to explode over Maxwell’s heavy popcorn slap. More frequently, ‘Cardinal Points’ sits happily in that comfortably idealised pastoral-prog idiom inspired by bands like Happy The Man or Montreux. Although Carol From An Irish Cabin (its watercolour synths dampening a politely romantic fretless bass) is a step too far towards Windham Hill wallpaper, both The Big Bird and Early Morning Rising follow the path more fruitfully; working in folk melodies and pinches of fuzzy overdriven jazz-fusion to their relaxed, innocent arrangements.

It’s sweet, but not as interesting as the experiments in sparseness, space and counterpoint elsewhere. On Not Tonight I Have A Headache, delicate layers of bass harmonics, thumb pianos and gongs inter-balance each other in a chime of mechanisms; while more basses brew up a blurred but rather beautiful dialogue of growls and stoned-cat noises to rise up behind it. Every Time takes the same kind of chiming bell effects and applies it to a gentrified jazz ballad (with an elastically expressive fretless melody to the fore).

Best of all, there’s the stately (and ever-so-slightly-psychedelic) jazz-rock march of Cardinal Points itself, demonstrating just how much Maxwell prioritizes composing and realizing music over spotlight hogging. Few bass soloists would share their best piece with another top-drawer bassist, let alone two (Harmony Grisman’s sidekick Tami Pallington and the increasingly legendary Michael Manring). Even fewer would make the piece dependent on the subtle collective interaction of all three musicians, rather than on lick-trading.

But that’s exactly what happens here. Pallington builds a silvery canopy of deftly clanging harmonics over Maxwell’s rich twilight orchestration, clarinet-style EBow lines and trick-stepping rhythm. Manring’s own response to Maxwell’s musical hospitality is to turn out one of his finest ever signature melodies – a musing solo slithering luxuriously around the fretboard like a stretching cat in a sunbeam, extending notes into passionate vapour trails via his own EBow. A generous response, it’s one of the high points of a generous album.

William Maxwell: ‘Cardinal Points’
Maxtrix (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R only album
Released: 2001

Buy it from:
Best obtained second-hand, or enquire via William Maxwell homepage.

William Maxwell online:
Homepage

REVIEW – Steve Lawson/Jez Carr: ‘Conversations’ album, 2002 (“easy, generous grace”)

2 Jul
Steve Lawson/Jez Carr: 'Conversations'

Steve Lawson/Jez Carr: ‘Conversations’

Talk’s cheap, and so am I… at least, when writing intros. I was going to pursue the “conversation” theme by squeezing in comments of my own about eavesdropping on musicians, or about the Troggs tape, or the language of notes. Then I put all of my smart-arse lines down, and just listened.

There are some records about which it’s difficult to say anything. Much. They crop up when you want to get expansive and to show off: and then you find that you just can’t use them as launch-pads for spectacular rants about the state of music, or the permeability of the soul. They bob beyond clutching fingertips and wagging tongue, deflecting the last-ditch wafts of hype with which you try to lassoo them. They’re critic-killers. And the funniest thing is that you love them for it – for the best reasons (nothing to do with clenched teeth, uptight craftsmanship or sweating in front of paying audiences). ‘Conversations’ is one of those records. Go and buy it. Feel good.

Alternatively, accept that I’ve got to try to explain it anyway: so please humour me for seven hundred more words or so…

Basics, then. ‘Conversations’ is a set of immediate, improvised duets between two British musicians – Steve Lawson (fretless bass guitar, loops) and Jez Carr (piano, small antelope statuettes) – from one of the tasteful/tuneful intersections of jazz and the avant-garde underground. Two sprawling self-penned essays on the CD sleeve reveal a cheerfully anti-heroic approach to improv and to music in general. Lawson and Carr name-check Schoenberg and Yehudi Menuhin, note that “people think that free means ‘out’, when free just means free”, but steer clear of portentousness. Oft-revived improv traits – stoniness, pomposity, randomness, irritating mysticism – are ignored in favour of an earnest, open approach.

The music reflects this. Clean and quietly inspired, it resounds through comfortable air, sharing subtle humour. It makes you think of a friendly hand on your shoulder; not a scuffle in an alley, or six days at the foot of a grouchy guru. If it sent postcards home, they’d be of green hills in ECM-land, or soft-focus shots of Bill Evans’ study. A few pictures of Carla Bley and Steve Swallow’s backyard might be in there too: but from the quiet time, somewhen in late spring, a lull in the heavy blowing season. This sounds pretty, and it is. Ultimately ‘Conversations’ is soft-edged, as relaxed as winding English rivers. It never works up a head of steam when a delicate flow will do instead.

Despite Carr’s Romantic leanings (he owes as much to Chopin as to Evans or Dollar Brand), he doesn’t waste notes, or drown the music in florid chords: and although ‘Conversations’ is built on slick musical technology, it’s not hijacked by it. Lawson (usually a solo performer, with a warped melodic looper’s approach) has all of his digital gizmos and luscious overlaid textures to hand; but he never once swamps Carr with them. For his part, Carr draws as much warmth from a digital piano as others could from a concert grand or from a well-worn-in jazz-club upright (covered in cigarette burns, whisky spills and four-generations-worth of jazzmen’s fingerprints).

Each piece is double-titled, reflecting each players’ viewpoint. Although Carr’s serious-sounding Migration manages to also be Lawson’s flippant Whateverwhatever, the duo maintain remarkable accord as they play. As Lawson and Carr settle readily into light-footed slow-motion melodies or feathery grooves, rich smudges of bass tone or rapt curving anchors of sound are left revolving in the loop pedal waiting for counterpoint with quick, relaxed piano touches. There are plenty of opportunities for hearing the expansive, delicately embracing tones of Lawson’s solo melodies: but for most of the record he provides a low-volume dub menagerie of playful but expressive noises. These sit alongside Carr’s crisp, ever-fresh improvising like an inspired combination of Percy Jones and a New Age Squarepusher.

On Sweet’N’Spiky/Shades Of Creation, Carr outlines ideas of rapt melodic phrases over Lawson’s bedrock riff, leaving our imaginations to fill in the gaps. At his leisure, Lawson fills in gaps we hadn’t actually thought of – via distant scrunches, data streams, balloon pings, gargling clicks and spinbacks, all sitting in the pockets of the tune. Walking rhythms interplay for Whateverwhatever/Migration: Carr’s brittle and determined piano mileposts the journey while Lawson offers squeaky wheels, footsteps and theremin wobbles of bass loop. For 1, 2, 3, 4…/Broken Lead, the bassist offers a fragmentary free-funk undertow, further softened by layers of unorthodox spindly chords and gurgling harmonics as Carr provides bright spins of softly-fingered notes.

Destination Unknown @ Point Of Departure/Drifting Dreaming makes the most of a grand vista of musical space, but does it by filling up as little of the view as possible. Carr plants brave speckles of light on unseen crags while a variety of subtle Lawson noises low like distant cattle, or write backward circles in fizzing firefly textures. Signing off with Closing Statement/At First Sight, Carr opens up into ringing blue ripples of controlled delight. Lawson builds up from E-Bowed foghorning soundscapes, progressing to wah-wobbled groove pulses and shimmering echoed treble tremors. Two-thirds of the way in, the music finally slides gracefully into a straightforward duet. Lawson’s yawning fretless notes cradle an ever-sleepier Carr – though unusual tinges of chording promise colourful dreams. It’s a beautiful closer to an album on which nothing has got in the way of the music. Neither embarrassment, nor aggression, nor flash.

What is truly remarkable about ‘Conversations’ is its easy, generous grace: unobscured by its gadgets, the skills of its players, even the hints implicit in genre and background. Waylaid by catches and self-consciousness, few records of “open” music are truly open. This is one that is.

Steve Lawson/Jez Carr: ‘Conversations’
Pillow Mountain Records/Bandcamp, PMR 0012 (no barcode)
CD/download album
Released: 1st January 2002

Buy it from:
Download from Jez Carr’s Bandcamp page; CD best looked for second-hand.

Steve Lawson online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Soundcloud

Jez Carr online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

REVIEW – Steve Lawson: ‘And Nothing But the Bass – Live @ the Troubadour’ album, 2000 (“sheer guilelessness”)

5 Jun
Steve Lawson: 'And Nothing But the Bass - Live @ The Troubadour'

Steve Lawson: ‘And Nothing But the Bass – Live @ The Troubadour’

Apparently, this music is what Steve Lawson makes to entertain friends – who make themself known as such simply by showing up to one of his intimate gigs. These could be in London, Lincoln, or Watford; in France or California; or wherever else Lawson and his little bundle of bass guitars, EBow sustainers and looping devices pitch camp for an evening of playing. Having asserted your friendship by wandering in and sitting down, you can smile to yourself about the way his lush, demonstrative instrumental music manages to cross-reference Frippertronics, Pete Seeger, Jaco Pastorius and Joe Satriani (for starters) without them crashing into each other or crowding him off his own playing stool.

You can also smile – with genuine enjoyment – at the sheer guilelessness of his music. The gauche jokiness of the album title is completely accurate. With one exception, this really is all One Man And His Loops live in front of a small, polite and audibly happy audience. But it shouldn’t be dismissed as cutesy novelty, or as circus tricks with effects pedals. That isn’t the half of it. In London, we’re used to anxiety. Self-exposure from tortured musical artists. Cool-by-numbers checklists. Spotlight-grabbing attitude flexers. Obvious-state-of-minders stapling themselves to credible trends, and sinking with them. Hearing Steve Lawson duck all of this (instead, he quietly focusses on the way music connects across generations, and between person and person) is a sweet shock.

On technical terms alone (if not in finger-thrashing stunt display), Lawson respectably holds his end up alongside American stars of the lyrical bass such as Victor Wooten or Michael Manring. But his work showcases not only prodigious playing talent but also a thorough lack of self-consciousness about engaging with his listeners. Maybe it’s from his previous work, playing with the equally guileless and elfin pop veteran Howard Jones. When you hear Lawson duetting with himself on sprightly children’s-song tunes like The Inner Game and The New Country (wrapping joyously squishy melodies around his looped, nodding, double-stopped riffs) you know you’re not hearing someone who’s concerned about his agenda fitting anyone’s T-shirt, or with the solemn rules at jazz school.

All right – perhaps an over-mellow conflation of two lovable old chestnuts (Chopsticks and Blue Moon) on Blue Sticks is a step too far in this direction. All taste and no meat; too close to a musical life that’s one long function room. Lawson dispatches it with impeccable skill – which is all very nice, but a little worrying in terms of complacency. Far better to hear him feeding twanging threads of Celtic-American folk song and bluegrass, Flecktones-style, into The Virtue Of The Small; and to then observe him splitting off to layer on some luxuriously glutinous improvisations (via serenely wandering fretless and classic-metal distortion). Listening carefully, you might spot momentary nods to other bass players – Chris Squire, Steve Swallow, Alphonso Johnson, Stuart Hamm – who’ve let melodies rumble up from the basement.

Of course, you could just put the notebook down and enjoy tunes like Bittersweet, a fretless-bass-and-piano duet owing a little to Pachelbel’s Canon and as much to Weather Report’s A Remark You Made. Jez Carr’s strums of high, cautiously sweet piano haze this one lightly with blue. Perhaps it’s over-aligned with the fastidious, earnestly white end of New Age jazz, but Lawson’s head-bowed cadences are beautifully poised – natural and regretful.

So far, so immaculate… so ‘Bassist Magazine’. What really opens doors are three pieces in which Lawson ventures into process music, chance-and-hazard and ambient music. Thankfully, it’s closer to Fripp Soundscapes and to post-rock than to the freeze-dried fusion on (for example), those slick early albums by John Patitucci.

On Drifting, the original moonlit ostinato foundations and skirling skybound melodies give way to smears of trembling Frippertronical treble passes – like wheelmarks on cloud – and to trance-techno bubble echoes Lawson somehow wrings out of his bass.  The lapping sounds and shimmering harmonic nudges of the gorgeous Pillow Mountain (with its sub-aqua heartbeat) are closer to Mouse On Mars than to any bass guitarring this side of Rothko’s post-rocking odysseys. Here, Lawson EBows strange Chinese string calls out of the beautiful murk. A third piece, Chance, clings on (just) to the right side of disassembly. The sharp attack, or mother-beast rumble, of Lawson’s varied approaches on fretless step in and around the frigidly emotional ECM-inspired bass figure at the heart of it, ghosted with minimal traceries.

It’s with these pieces that we hear Steve Lawson’s audience returning a favour. Moving away from simply bobbing their heads to the happy melodies, they concentrate on  listening instead. And all without the man breaking much of a sweat, either.  For any instrumentalist, this album would be charming. For Steve Lawson, it’s a showcase punched open at one end. His friends are watching him grow – I suggest that you join them.

Steve Lawson: ‘And Nothing But the Bass – Live @ the Troubadour’
Pillow Mountain Records/Bandcamp, PMR 0011 (no barcode)
CD/download album
Released: 28th August 2000

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Steve Lawson online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Soundcloud

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A search for the world's weirdest music, in handy blog form

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

songs from so deep

Songs and sound. Guitars and stuff.

%d bloggers like this: