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Review – Solo Bass Looping Festival, Santa Cruz (Good Times)

“As a rainstorm raged outside the beautiful Art Deco walls of the old Rio Theatre there was quite a storm of another kind brewing on this venue’s new stage. Tuesday night’s world premiere ‘Bass Looping Festival’ was a great success story for hosts Rick Walker and Laurence Bedford. The avante garde event journeyed into the untapped areas that electronic musica can truly offer an audience. The concept of a ‘looping festival’ held the promise of musical expansion and also some risk into the unknown creating an exponentially, mind-expanding musical terrain.

Rick Walker was the couturier of the evening and shall remain so as the musical director of this new ongoing series, which will explore the underworlds of electronic music. Walker’s history and leadership of the seminal New Wave group Tao Chemical, Tao Rhythmical and the innovative World Fusion ensemble, Worlds Collide, proves he has always managed to be at the razor’s edge of inspiration and innovation.

Trey Donovan took the stage barefoot and gave a stellar performance on his Chapman Stick, often switching mid-song to add notes from his electric bass. The interface of the two sounds was rich and gratifying. Max Valentino came up next and played an extra large acoustic bass that looked like a large guitar rather than an upright bass. The sounds had a crisp resonance unlike the bassy bottom end sounds that emanate from a traditional bass. His third tune of the evening was “Sticks and Tones” (I love the title) which proved his refined ability to be a solo bassist. “Time is Rubber” had unflinching integrity and filled the hall with a stir of emotion.

A bassist who displayed a Buddhist approach to playing was Scott Kungha Drengsen. He played meditative drones with chordial cathedral-like melody lines. His usage of a foot-operated sequencer, coupled with his own version of special effects, created an ‘otherworldy collage’ with accents similar to Scott Lafaro’s slapping techniques. Drengsen is proficient on six-string fretless, five- and eight-stringed basses and six-string electric doublebass. He chose to incorporate multiple bass in his movie soundtrack-like performance.

Englishman Steve Lawson at last took center stage with the spirit of Jaco Pastrious woven into the tapestry of his technique and his grasp on the language of bass artistry. He brought forth the textures of a fuzzed-out Jimi Hendrix riff or seduced you down a jazzy cobblestone road in New Orleans with “Blue Moon.” His hypnotic trance jazz/blues crossover piece “Blue Sticks,” had a Zen-like quality to its melody lines. Next you found yourself “Drifting” to distant lands and uncharted looping terrains with this fine composition of experimental artistry. Lawson conjured a sense of time traveling, as he placed the e-bows on the lower strings, resulting in continual watery feedback loops of sound that evoked images of an aquatic world. Lawson’s candor in between songs were tongue-in-cheek, with its brilliantly dry delivery, in his lovely English accent.

The showstopper was a duet with Rick Walker playing his drum mallets upon the strings of Lawson’s bass, as Lawson played the upper strings on the bass’s fretboard. I wished that I had a recording of this moment.”

– Michele Benson

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