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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Review – solo show, Croydon Fairfield Halls (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“The job of opening the concerts of the 21st Century Schizoid Band on their British tour was given to Steve Lawson and it proved to be an excellent coupling. Lawson served as a rival attraction, with his innovative soundscaping for solo bass, to the older sounds of the former Crimson members, even though, in the course of the concert, Steve underlined the connection that linked his musical offerings with the music of King Crimson, making reference to Frippertronics.

Steve Lawson opened his short set with No More Us And Them, a piece that will be included on his forthcoming new album, in which he immediately displayed his technique of layering loops created in real time, without any pre-recorded foundation.

From the album And Nothing But the Bass he then performed the wonderful The Inner Game, followed by another new composition from his new album, entitled MMFSOG. Between the pieces, all played with a great mastery of various devices, pedals and e-bow, Steve entertained the audience with great charm.

What a shame that his opening act lasted such a short time, less than half an hour. Highway One was followed by a short improvisation, after which Steve Lawson bade farewell to the audience with a beautiful version of the classic Fly Me To The Moon.

Later in the evening, Steve informed me that he would soon be undertaking a tour, including Italy, with Michael Manring. I hope to be able to confirm the dates as soon as possible. Try not to miss the opportunity to hear live a young man who is a phenomenal bassist and who will certainly be attracting the attention of the wider public before long.”

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Review – Conversations (Loopers Delight)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“From the beginning of the first track’s languid fretless, grooving, melodicism it’s a feast of inventive looping. Hey, and it’s so lush and “pretty” that my wife doesn’t even ask me to “please turn it down” — which has got to be some kind of a first for a ‘”looping” CD.

Jez Carr’s spare, pointalistic pianisms are the perfect compliment for what Steve offers. Which is a combination of lyrical bass that reminds me of the best of a Mark Eagan or an Eberhard Weber, with some almost “Frisellian,” skittering loopsterizing weaving in and out from time to time.

Steve’s use of loops are integral, organic, and essential to the proceedings too. They inject a lot of humor into what might have been something more like a chilly, ECM record without them. Not that ECM is a bad thing. Some of my favorite music is on ECM. But most of you may know what I mean.

Examples: after establishing the first track with a loooose and laaaazy fretless groove Steve introduces twittering, backwards (and sped up) chipmunk bass noises in the middle so that it sounds like the duet has been visited (and joined) by a passing band of musical insects on a flyby.

The second starts right out with a rhythmic figure of looped bass harmonic “pops and clicks” that reminds me of either Copland’s “The Grand Canyon Suite” or the fellow with the coconuts who follows King Arthur around in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” In the middle of the same track, are some wonderfully “loopy” bass glissandi that sound for all the world like a theremin in a ’50s B-horror film (think faux spooky, haunted-house “ghost” sounds). Whacky huh?

This not to say that this isn’t serious music. It’s just that this duo seems to be continually reminding us that they are ALSO having fun and don’t take themselves TOO terribly seriously.

The 3rd track is a brief (1:12) sensitive piano solo . . . no bass, no loops. Just a short interlude of very pretty piano. But, it also underscores the true spontaneousness of the improvisations going on elsewhere on the disc, for these ARE improvisations in the truest sense. No studio editing “trickery.”

I could go on (and on) with each track but I think I’ve given a pretty good “gist” of what this disc is like. There aren’t any cut’s on this CD that are rollicking, uptempo, or show-offy — though they definitely “groove” an percolate at times. The overall mood is a pretty consistent one — of understated and sophisticated interplay — with superb instrumental chops and communication which often verges on the telepathic — with large doses of humor and grace.

Steve Lawson exhibits a very “organic” and creative use of live looping and real-time tweaking of effects that should be an example to any of us “loopfolk” . . . no matter what instrument we play. I can’t say enough to recommend his CD adequately. Just do yourself a favor and get it if you haven’t already.”

– Ted Killian

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Review – Conversations (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“A little less than a year ago we looked at the debut album by the talented London-based bassist Steve Lawson, a disc which afforded an amazing variety of perspectives from the instrument of a musician blessed with a keen melodic sense and an innate propensity to experiment. Now Steve has shifted focus, taking on a new challenge, together with pianist Jez Carr, based on a series of spontaneous improvisations which, as the two musicians assure us in the sleeve notes, have not been planned in any way, but were approached as a conversation (hence the album’s title).

And the resulting feeling of looseness is like that of a quiet chat over a coffee in which the most diverse subjects are addressed, wandering from one point to the next following a logical thread that only a dialogue can have. Barely murmured phrases, sounds that rise up to emphasise certain points, whispers and laughter, all skilfully evoked by Lawson’s mellow bass and Carr’s refined jazzy piano, which over the sixty-five minutes bear witness to a rare sensibility, together with an excellent training and a remarkable aptitude for more extreme challenges. How can we extrapolate from these outlines something that stands out against the rest when the whole is so close to perfection and when everything is so magically balanced, so beautifully ethereal?

A disc that reinforces the idea of improvised music as one of the highest musical forms, where the deepest secrets of the human heart surface, allowing a pure approach founded on the innocence of the listener and vulnerability of the musician to create an unrepeatable piece of magic, free from restrictions, expectations and preconceptions. Magnificent! Allow yourself to be involved in Conversations, which will free you from your mortal remains for a little more than an hour and let your mind contemplate the universe from a privileged viewpoint. You will not regret it. Available from Pillow Mountain Records. “

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Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

“Is it jazz? Bassist Steve Lawson and pianist Jez Carr indulge in free improvisation on this CD at least: spontaneous and without any prior discussion. Geared to contemplation and harmony, this music does not impose itself aggressively on the listener. Attentive listening pays rewards – and reveals hidden jewels.

Steve Lawson, unusually for a bassist, is known primarily as a solo artist. He and Jez Carr have worked together for some time: Carr was the producer on Lawson’s debut “And nothing but the bass”; here he appears as pianist and duo partner to Lawson. The pieces collected on this CD were deliberately, and bravely, left as first takes, without any subsequent tweaking. It is probably for that reason that they are a little on the long side here and there.

Once again Lawson plays his six-string fretless, with which he covers the entire sonic spectrum and also produces sound effects from the world of electronica. His playing is lyrical, virtuoso and good for a surprise or two. At the same time, he allows his partner Jez Carr the necessary space, which Carr fills with sparing sounds and melodies that are sometimes reminiscent of Erik Satie.

The least important thing about this disc is probably stylistic classification. Call it jazz if you like, call it New Age or acoustic ambient music: it is simply great. Listen up!”

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Review – Conversations (Bass Guitar Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“The sleeve notes to Conversations suggest that the players had no charts, no tunes, no keys, or anything prepared before recording the project. After listening to the album I refused to believe that such melodic and graceful tunes could emerge from so sparse a formula, so a quick call to Mr Lawson was in order…

‘yeah, there were no rehearsals, no duscussion on keys, rhythms or vibes; just hit ‘reocrd’ and play. It was as spontaneous as it could possibly be!’

“Conversations captures all those moments in their glory. It’s far removed from the usual ‘free jazz’ type of fast improvisations with extended soloing or groove sections. Jez Carr is sparse with his lines, leaving Lawson room to explore the upper reaches of his Modulus Custom 6 string fretless. Two of the tracks exceed 14 minutes, and both are happy to heave lots of space during the tunes where the freedom to bounce ideas around never gets out of control. Conversations is extremely laid back conjuring images of dream like open spaces. IF you like your music free of constraints you’ll like the approach of Conversations.”
– Adrian Ashton

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Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

May 6th, 2008 · Comments Off on Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

Sunday’s gig with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds went very well – thanks to those of you who came along. The venue, The Brickhouse on Brick Lane in East London, was suitably strange – on three levels (ground floor and two balconies, the top one had beds on it!) and amazing food, and we had to get them to move the stage away so we’d have room to set up all our toys.

For those of you just catching up, the Dodds/Lawson/Wood trio is a project spawned by my Recycle Collective venture – when it’s running, it’s a monthly music night, featuring amazing improvising musicians spontaneously composing in different combinations. Quite a few of the combinations I assembled for it are planned to become ‘bands’ of one sort or another, but many of the musicians involved are so busy that it’ll be years before it happens.

However, the trio with Roy and Patrick is one that was so good we’ve all made it our priority. I’ve been playing with Patrick for years (he played at the first ever ‘proto-recycle’ improv gig at Greenbelt in 2005), and have been listening to Roy play with other people for just as long, particularly in Theo Travis’ band.

We did a Recycle gig at Darbucka in October last year, and then went into the studio in early December to record in the same way – just set up and start playing. Since then we’ve been mixing and editing the improvs (which has been interesting for me, as I usually don’t edit) and have come up with a record that we’re all really proud of (more news on that ASAP).

So Sunday was only the third time we’ve all played together, but the musical chemistry is amazing.

And that, for me, is what improv is all about – the ‘composition’ part is just choosing the right players. At its best it’s about getting musicians together who respect each other so much that they never feel like going with someone else’s idea is a bad thing. Musician who listen more than they shred, whose default position is deferential. It means that the music tends to evolve slowly as each new ingredient is added and the the others react to it.

So I may start with a groove, or some spacey ambience, or patrick may lay out some kind of harmonic territory on guitar or keys, and then the others react to it and the initial idea is modified, developed, morphed into a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Every time I sit down at the start of an all improv gig I wonder if we’ll have run out of ideas, if we’ll get 20 mins into the gig and just start playing a 12-bar blues or something.

One of the things on Sunday that triggered these thoughts was when the DJ who was hosting the day said he’d play a few more record and then we could ‘get up and jam’ – I was really taken aback, as I’ve never thought of this as ‘jamming’ at all.. it’s a whole other headspace to the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach that defines most ‘jamming’. It’s spontaneous composition, acknowledging that each of us as an acutely refined sense of what’s ‘good’ even when nothing is laid down to define what’s ‘right’. It’s not about finding some simple changes we can stumble through to make ourselves feel better, it’s about exploring our shared music worlds to find music that otherwise wouldn’t exisit, about listening, reacting and trying to add to what the others are bringing. This is 300% music – it’s 100% Patrick, 100% Roy and 100% me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt, playing with these guys, that my own musical vision is in anyway compromised or stunted, but I frequently feel my own playing elevated by the genius, sensitivity and creativity of the other two. We never have to ask the others to do something specific, as we each recognise that we are the masters or our own musical discipline – I know what ‘steve lawson music’ should sound like better than anyone else on the planet, and likewise Roy and Patrick. If I start telling Patrick what to play, it assumes that I know more about what he does that he knows. That’s insane.

There is, however, a deeply psychological streak running through all this, in that it takes a while to develop that kind of deep trust, to develop the ‘abandonment to the moment’ and to foster to confidence required to take the music where YOU feel it should go. With Patrick, this is part of a 6 or 7 year improvising relationship – when we first got together to play, he was rather puzzled by the idea that I didn’t want to play written songs, that I didn’t want to discuss keys and stuff, but just wanted to play. But the fruits of it is where we are now, exploring this unique shared musical space that the three of us occupy.

I’m really excited about the future of this trio, and the record release. With this, my solo stuff, the duo with Lobelia and Open Sky, I feel like I’ve got such a rich portfolio of music to work on, and feel really blessed to have the opportunity to explore the respective styles and approaches of the projects.

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Steve Lawson :: Solo Bassist

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Steve Lawson :: Solo Bassist

Listen now:
Sept 18: Brand new solo album, Beauty And Desolation, out now

HELLO! I’m Steve. I’m play bass (and live electronics) both solo and in a lot of collaborative settings. I’m also a music teacher/lecturer, a journalist and am doing a PhD about audiences for improv. Here’s where you’ll find a lot of music, my blog (there’s over 15 years of it to read back through 😉 ) and info about gigs, my musical history and what else I’ve got going on.

If you’re already familiar with the music, please consider having a look at the Bandcamp subscription offer – making this kind of music means that there’s no sustainable model for music making to be built on Spotify or Apple Music – the scale of audience needed is just not compatible with making instrumental music with a bass, and releasing as much of it as I do. So I developed the subscription as a mutually beneficial way of getting all this amazing music out to you, and making it possible for me to keep recording and releasing it. No-one’s getting rich off this, but I’m still doing it three years in, and the subscriber community is growing every month. Come and join us!

While you’re here, come and say hi! Find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.

 

Latest video, Beauty And Desolation (new album title track):

 

Read the cover story from Bass Guitar Magazine‘s October 2015 issue!

Recent Solo Videos:
Language And Memory  (from Beauty And Desolation)
Beauty And Desolation 
Transcendence And Decay (from Beauty And Desolation)
Small Is Beautiful (from Small Is Beautiful)
Vertigo (from Referendum)
Her Kindness (from The Surrender Of Time)

 

 

Some lovely quotes:

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Are you new round here? Want an overview? Here’s ‘Steve In A Nutshell‘.

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Thoughts on composition and improvisation

February 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thoughts on composition and improvisation

Went out for dinner last night with the ever-wonderful Theo Travis. Not only is Theo one of the finest musicians I’ve ever had the good fortune to play with, but he’s a really inspiring person to spend time with, and I always come away with all kinds of new thoughts and inspiration whenever we hang out.

One of things we were talking about last night was improvisation. Theo made a couple of great observations; the first was about how lazy it is of reviewers to think that the highest praise you can give an improv record is that it’s ‘so good is sounds composed’. His second was that whenever you see a ‘what I’m listening to’ list from the titans of jazz, it’s almost invariably ‘classical’ (orchestral/chamber works) music that they are listening to.

Which sparked off a series of thoughts in me about structure in improvised music – the first point about reviewers is an important one, because it presupposes that the best structure and form comes for writing and refining rather than reacting. The record I recorded with Theo is, IMO, way better than it would have been if we’d composed it. The structures are too complex to be writable, the interaction between us way too intuitive to have been conceived of abstracted from us playing and reacting… There are things in it that felt wrong to one or other of us as we played them but turned out to be fantastic.

And to hammer the point home, every track on the album is a first take. There is somewhere a second take of every track, and none of them had the magic of the first takes. When we tried to turn them into ‘songs’ they lost something.

So onto the ‘top jazzers listen to classical music’ – I think this too is a matter of structure. I think it was Daniel Barenboim (might not have been, but it sounds like something he’d say) who said that ‘the best composed music sounds improvised and the best improvisations sound composed’ – meaning that in a composition one is hoping to inject the feeling that the performer is playing it because it’s the best possible thing to play right at that moment, not that they are settling for the shit that’s on the page cos that’s their job. There wants to be a relationship between the various parts that feels like it’s happening right there, like those lines are so meant to go together that all the players must be sharing a brain and thinking it up together…

Likewise, with an improvisation, the feeling that it’s the best you could possibly come up with even if you sat and edited it, that the strands running through it grow and evolve in the way you want them to, that the performer is in control of saying exactly what needs to be said with the most amazing level of skill – that’s what we’re aiming for.

So it stands to reason that great improvisors would spend time absorbing forms and structures and arrangements and ideas from the masters of form and structure – composers.

For the last couple of days I’ve been ‘rinsing’ Bartok’s string quartets nos. 1, 3 & 5. The music is so so beautiful, so deep and complex, and at times incredibly dark and dissonant but never without shape and form and beauty. It’s remarkable stuff, and I’m just letting it soak in and seeing what happens. I may end up having to get a book on Bartok, to try and get inside some of the harmonic ideas, but we’ll see how far I get by osmosis…

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Michael Manring on improv…

February 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Michael Manring on improv…

So the chain of links goes – the top ‘related video’ for the new duo video with Michael Manring is a trailer for a documentary about a musician called Michael Masley. Micael Manring used to be in a group with Masley called Cloud Chamber, a beautiful ‘improvising chamber group’ that made really beguiling ambient music.

So I googled them and found this interview with the band on Innerviews, Anil Prasad’s fantastic site. And in the interview, was a really pertinent quote from Mr Manring about improvising. So here it is. Damn, I love the internet. :o)

Manring: People often think of improvisation as meaning jazz improvisation, but I’m interested in the greater meaning of the word. I’m interested in the idea of improvising not necessarily notes, but phrasing, dynamics and articulation. For me, the thing that makes improvisation important is that it’s so directly connected to the moment. I think it’s a very necessary form of musical expression that’s existed in all cultures through time, but Western culture has sort of kept it hidden. It’s so responsive and it’s a great way to work with people. It opens up deeper possibilities for dialogue.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself… :o)

Tags: cool links · Musing on Music

Here's the press release for this month's Recycle gig… don't miss it!

October 31st, 2006 · Comments Off on Here's the press release for this month's Recycle gig… don't miss it!

1/11/06 Press release – Recycle Collective first
anniversary special, featuring Cleveland Watkiss,
Huw Warren and Steve Lawson

This November is the first anniversary of the beginning of the Recycle Collective. In the last 12 months, we’ve played host to some of the finest improvising musicians in the UK and beyond, and had many memorable nights of beautiful unique music.

Our first anniversary boasts another stunning line-up as solo bassist and Recycle Collective curator Steve Lawson is joined by singer/beatboxer/MC Cleveland
Watkiss and pianist Huw Warren.

Both Cleveland and Huw have been mainstays on the UK jazz scene for almost 20 years, celebrated for their inventive compositions and stunning improvisational ability. Cleveland’s recent focus on solo voice and live looping performances has added yet another layer to an already multifaceted career, ranging from jazz to opera, hip-hop to ambient electronica. Without doubt one of the most talented and versatile vocalists the UK has ever produced.

Huw Warren’s skills are equally diverse – whether free improvising with german double bassist Peter Herbert, playing Hymns from the Welsh Revival with Lleuwen Steffan, or writing music for the Scottish and Welsh Chamber Orchestras, through to accompanying singers June Tabor and Christine Tobin, he’s renowned for always playing the right thing at the right time. Effortlessly tasteful and prodigiously gifted, Huw’s presence at the Recycle Collective is very warmly anticipated.

Fresh back from a solo tour of Italy and Germany, Steve Lawson has steered the Recycle Collective to being one of London’s finest monthly live music events. Combining his own looped and layered bass work with the contributions of myriad fellow recyclists.

So come, bring friends, and be prepared for amazing music, special guests and a night of musical surprises in the perfect surroundings of Darbucka World Music Bar.

Date – Nov 15th Time – doors 7pm, music 8pm
Venue – Darbucka World Music Bar, Clerkenwell, London, EC1 4JZ
Nearest Tube – Farringdon
Tickets – £7/£5 concessions.

www.stevelawson.net www.clevelandwatkiss.com www.huwwarren.com
www.recyclecollective.com

Tags: Music News