Armed only with bass guitars and effects pedals, Steve Lawson arrives to get seriously funky-jazzy on your ass. Not right away, mind you. Lawson, referred to on the cover of the October 2015 edition of Bass Guitar Magazine as “The Lord of the Loops,” uses much of the opening track, “When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression,” to walk you through his gear and the sounds it gives him. Ambient sighs, curling electronic squibs, and clattering percussive elements mix around occasional riffs off the bass. And we get that in a couple permutations of tone as well. The jazz slides in more as we go along. Lawson’s eloquent phrasing on “Wait and See What Happens” plays out against a tick-rock rhythm that sounds like it’s being played on pots and pans–including a couple of hearty thumps. The fluidity of the bass gliding over the strident percussive line works well. “I Thought Only Foreigners Knew That” walks in full of funk, and Lawson immediately lights up the strings with fast flurries, playful runs, and crunches of chords. This piece finds Lawson expressing freely and jazzily high up the neck while his initial loops keep that smooth stride flowing. “Come the Revolution” also gets its funk on via its waking bass bottom line and liberal application of wah-wah. “Five Stages” offers the purest bass experience, a set of solo expressions carefully laid over each other, with just the slightest hint of a constant electronic wash beneath it.(And one oddly placed touch of that kitchen-born percussion that’s mildly distracting.) As much as each element feels like a new exploration, they also grow organically like branches off the last idea. Even when Lawson gets down to grinding odd sounds and scratches out of his strings, it makes sense. As much as I enjoy the in-the-moment feel of a lot of the work here, two pieces that come across as more melody-driven stand out for me. “Ten Years Too Late” is built on ever-increasing loops, heading toward its thick, complex high point where Lawson absolutely unleashes his bass in fiery rock fury. At that stage the bedrock of his loops is a churning, rhythmic force that holds steady as he grinds. “Her Kindness” is a quiet love song, a perfect jazz-guitar piece that sings in a very romantic voice. I’m reminded here of the playing of Tuck Andress of Tuck & Parri, that same easy elegance and pure expressiveness.
The Surrender of Time hits just the right mix of improv-based exploration and straight-ahead melodic lines. Lawson’s technical skill with the bass is showcased in any number of ways, and there’s no doubting he is the “Lord of the Loops.” His builds are a pleasure to listen to, and when he lays his jazz lines across them, there’s a totality of sound that hits every time. This is my introduction to this prolific bassist’s work, and it’s made me need to dig in deeper. Get ahold of this soon.
Available at Steve Lawson’s web site.