Catching up with LEYlines Albums So Far

As announced yesterday, there’s a new LEYlines album arriving in the next week or so (actual release dates are bourgeois and should be rejected 😉 )

band photo of the trio LEYlinesIt’ll be available initially via two mediums – to my Bandcamp subscribers (click here to subscribe via Bandcamp now), and via Phi Yaan-Zek’s Bandcamp page. This is how we’ve done all the LEYlines recordings – I get them for subscribers and Phi does the public release, sometimes with a limited edition CD run, sometimes without…

So let’s recap the albums so far – here’s our first album, recorded in 2015:

This was the first time we’d ever properly played together collectively – having taught alongside each other for a couple of years at this point, we had really done much playing as a trio at all. We did a short improv thing for the students early on, but never an entire performance, and certainly not in the studio. We had limited tech with us, and Phi had no guitar amp, so the sounds were reamped in the studio. There’s some minimal editing going on here, and Phi overdubbed keyboards in the same spirit as the original improvisations, but this was the start of something special, as well as reflecting the freshness that can happen when you don’t have your usual pile of technology.

Next up was LEYlines II, from 2016:

This was another improvised-in-the-studio-recording, but this time we had all of the toys, Andy was in a separate drum room, Phi and I were in the control room, and on a couple of occasions, Andy didn’t even know we’d hit record… This goes to some really strange places, and shows the breadth of what can happen when our different musical worlds collide…

On the same day, Phi and I recorded The Quiet After The Drums when Andy went to pick up his kids from school… This is only available currently as a subscriber exclusive, but maybe Phi will do a bundle with the upcoming releases and offer it as part of that too 🙂

Next up from the LEYlines stable was Over Time – a live duo album from Andy and I – this was initially a subscriber release, but is now public, and not part of the subscriber back catalogue – this happens with a lot of the collaborations. They go to the current subscribers at the point of release, but aren’t bundled with future sign-ups. So you need to sign up ASAP to get everything.

Which brings us to the last LEYlines album – LEYlines III, which was recorded live at The Swan in Stourport when we opened for an evening with Neil Murray – Neil is the legendary bassist with Whitesnake and Black Sabbath (amongst many others) and was playing some tracks and talking about his careeer. A pretty odd setting for an improv trio (at least, for those who don’t know about Neil’s impeccable 70s jazz-rock credentials) but the recording came out really well, and clearly a wall of dudes in Whitesnake t-shirts acted as a good audience backdrop for us to play to… 🙂

So this summer, we’ve got LEYlines IV, V and VI on the way – if you subscribe now, you’ll get them all on the day of release direct from me. If not, they’ll be available as individual albums from Phi’s Bandcamp, where you can buy the albums above too if you want to catch up… Right now, LEYlines I and III are also available in the subscription bundle, so you’ll get those too if you sign up today. BARGAIN!

New Album Out Today – The Field Of Strategic Possibilities

With the brand new recording of Sunday night’s gig being released to subscribers today, I thought I’d put the sleevenotes here as a blog post, as an insight into the process of making it and some of the thoughts behind it. With each album, I do a series of subscriber-only posts explaining the titles and giving some other background info on the albums, but here are the actual sleevenotes. If you want to find out more about getting the music, head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

                                                         o^0^o

So, here we have the third album of the month! Recorded May, 2019 at Tower Of Song in Birmingham. It was another gig with Lobelia – I think our duo gigs make for a really interesting context for solo playing – maybe the knowledge that there’s going to be something a little more pop happening means I can get a little more strange? Who knows…

Anyway, as the third of three gigs in a month, I had a desire to go somewhere else with the music. As an improvisor there’s an eternal dialectic of sameness and difference that I’ve talked about elsewhere – the bits of what you play that constitute your vocabulary, your set of preferences for areas to explore, sounds to make, a harmonic and melodic language that you’re building on. This exists across pretty much all forms of improvised music, whether idiomatic or not. In my case, I see it as pan-idiomatic, so the bits that fit into a particular style are subject to the same sameness and difference considerations as anything else – so a different kind of hip hop beat have familiarity as hip hop but novelty in the change of groove.

And that process of experiencing ‘sameness’ as familiarity with a particular dispensation towards music making rather than as ‘the performance of a composition’ or ‘the rote repetition of a bunch of musical ideas’ seems pretty key from an audience point of view, and one that is hugely magnified when everything is recorded and released. If these gigs were just a tour, I don’t think anyone came to more than one of them, so I could’ve played almost identical music across the three shows and no-one’s experience of it except mine would’ve been impacted by the sameness… There would’ve been a tangible impact on the complexity of the music if I’d consciously set out to repeat ideas (repetition pretty much always leads to simplification for me, given my lack of current interest in composing complex music and the consequential reliance on recalling elements of another improvised piece, rather than the focussed attention required to learn and practice complex composed music)

But the recording process – the thing that brought us here to this release – means that what comes before is part of what is now. We hear in relation not just to what is on its own, but how it stands as another episode in a longer story. How it works as part of the mini story-arc of this month’s releases. Putting out three albums in a month is a bizarre thing to do – on par with the decision to release everything that Daniel Berkman and I recorded across two years of touring. And that closeness in time certainly causes us to condense our sense of them as a subset of the longer narrative arc of the subscriber release project.

So The Field Of Strategic Possibilities – a phrase borrowed from Michel Foucault (and an idea not without its own problems) is a reference to the fact that this music springs from a complex web of possible happenings that are shaped positively and negatively, that have valence with the friendships in the room, the acoustics, my own restlessness, my caffeine intake (!), the journey to the gig (if I arrive late and have to set up in a hurry it unequivocally alters the music that happens after it)… A whole massive field of possibilities against which decisions are made. The strategic part is only one part – there’s a cultural backdrop, a perception of what is and isn’t communicable as intention, an aesthetic of chaos and complexity that makes sense and a line that crosses into something that feels less meaningful to me in relation to you… A million parameters that bring us to here.

And now it’s fixed in time. Only it’s not, because every time you hear it, it means something else. And the second time you hear it is completely different to the first, moving from revelation to remembrance. From there on it, the remembrance is fed in new ways and the context shifts, but that first step from novelty to nostalgia is a transformative one, and one that distances you from the experience of everyone who was there at the gig.

I was talking on Twitter recently with Beardyman about the fact that sometimes things that are great in shows aren’t great as recordings (and vice versa – I’ve had things that felt really off on a gig that were amazing and greatly surprised me when I listened back!) – the Jazz Cafe gig I did with Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Gary Lucas was one such gig – an incredible live experience (the majority of people I spoke to after said it was one of the most amazing gigs they’d ever seen), but for some reason, didn’t hit that same high as a recording… That’s OK. It in no way diminishes the gig.

These three albums haven’t been released as part of a challenge, there are no points for being prolific. Just make the best music you can, and if that means you take 10 years to make an album – like Phi Yaan-Zek’s extraordinary project from last year – that’s great, though it’s going to be harder to fund it.

But I want to thank you for subscribing to this stuff and making it possible. The latitude to release anything that is worthwhile, that is meaningful, and not have to take – as Miles Davis did with Pangaea and Agharta – two recordings from the same day and release them a year apart, is an extraordinary blessing, it’s freeing to be able to listen to every piece of music as a worthwhile event, rather than as a marketable commodity.

Here’s to the next episode…

New Effects Course at ScottsBassLessons.com

Yesterday, a course that Scott and I filmed last year went live on SBL – titled ‘The Essential Guide To Bass Effects with Steve Lawson’. 

The course is broken up into effect types, and is a broad look at what each of the effect types do and some ideas for combining them. We talk about the influence that effect order has on your sound, why it’s often important for bass sounds to have the dry signal as well as the processed one, why there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ pedal for any one type of effect, and an exploration of what’s actually going on with each effect type. 

What it doesn’t have is ‘here’s how to set this pedal to get this sound’ type demos. Partly because those kind of product demo videos are available in their thousands on YouTube, it’s also because the single most important thing you can do to your music with effects pedals is to experiment, try things out, and the more general guidelines for how to understand what a pedal type does and how it may be applied are a much better start point for that experimentation. 

Curiosity is an essential component in any creative journey. A point that Scott makes brilliantly in a recent interview with Musical U founder, Christopher Sutton – here’s a video of Christopher talking about things he’s learned from Scott, from Adam Neely and from me… It outlines a curiosity and creativity-driven pathway through music learning really well, and dovetails really well with the intended learning pathway through the effects course… 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix6m_3v6HCo&feature=youtu.be

Music News Update – THREE New Albums???

So, as I write, I’m listening through what I think are the final mixes for the third solo album I’ve recorded this month… 

…wait, THIRD?? Yup, as you probably know, I record every gig I do, and I’ve had three in the last month – the first was at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, London, then a week and a bit later, Lo and I played a house concert in Hackney, London, and then this past weekend Lo and I played together again, this time at Tower Of Song here in Birmingham. And the solo bit of each gig was good enough to release, so I have. 

Not so many years ago, the thought of putting out all that music would’ve been pretty outré… Three albums worth of new material would have had to be spread out over a couple of years – Miles Davis recorded the albums Agartha and Pangaea on the SAME DAY but they were released a year apart… 

But thanks to the deep joys of my Bandcamp subscription, I’ve been able to release these as I go along. There’s been no press fanfare, no need to send out press releases or contact radio or magazines. At least, not yet. As part of the subscription, these are recordings that have already been paid for. The time I’ve spent mixing and mastering them is time that’s covered by the amazing, brilliant, art-loving souls who keep this ship afloat. And they’ve already had albums one and two. The first was called Time Is A Broken Lens and the second is called Gift Of Patience. As I said, the third one is, I think, finished being mix, and will be out in the next week or so. 

The first two form something of a set within the set – they follow quite similar arcs, though if you read the essays that accompany them (by clicking through to Bandcamp via the links above) you’ll see that there are some differences that feel significant to me. One of the great things about the subscription as that we get to discuss this stuff in the subscriber area on Bandcamp – lil’ chats about what the music means to the listeners not just to me… 

So, anyway, if you want to join us, head over to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe and jump right in. We’d love to have you there. And if you want to spend some time listening to the music before deciding to support it in a more concrete way, that’s absolutely fine too… We’re here for the long haul… 

There have been some interesting changes in the music of late, so I’ll post more about those soon, but til then, I hope you’re enjoying the music. x 

New album out now – Restless

cover art for the album Restless by Steve Lawson and Pete Fraser I’ve just put out a new album! It’s called Restless, and it’s a duo live improv record with sax genius Pete Fraser. Pete and I first met just over two years ago, went into a studio 2 minutes after meeting and made a record. That was Intersect. This was our second time meeting, on Nov 25th this year, for a gig in Birmingham, at Tower Of Song. It was a lovely gig, and as always I recorded it, then mixed and mastered it, and here it is! 

At the moment, it’s a subscriber-only release. That means that the only people who can hear it all and download it are my Bandcamp subscribers. You can find out all about the subscription, the massive amounts of music you get by signing up and all the other fun stuff alongside it by heading to http://stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe 

But, for those of you that aren’t yet subscribers, here’s 22 minutes of it here to watch and listen to – I filmed the first set and the encore, but forgot to hit record before the 2nd set! So this is the 2nd half of the first set:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr1cDdmo4yQ

Here’s the sleevenotes for the album: 

I’ve recently realised that every time I come to write sleeve notes for a new release, I’m trying to tell the same story, that the music has the same basic assumptions about the world underpinning it for me. The purpose is to ask questions and expose the beauty in leaving things open to interpretation, the deeper magic that comes from revealing and representing the complexity of everything rather than trying to sit above it and declare from some lofty vantage point that this is a finished statement. Music is my research method into the human condition and the human experience and, like academic research, you aren’t ever sure what you’ll find when you begin. You have a hunch and if this isn’t your first rodeo you’ll have a bunch of experiences to draw on, but you set off to find something new rather than just to offer proof of what you already know.

So this like everything I do is music that not only acknowledges questions, it asks them and rarely if ever offers anything definitive in response. Having that as a modus operandi means finding other people who are more interested in feeding their own curiosity than putting up signs to signify their own greatness. The irony being, of course, that it’s the quest that creates so many of music’s greatest moments – Miles gave the charts for Kind Of Blue to the band in the studio. Eric B & Rakim made Paid In Full in a week, with Rakim rapping while reading the words he’d hand-written. Black Sabbath’s first album was done in a single day. Allow the moment to define the music and all those questions can add up to something that under the right light looks like a statement. But that’s hindsight. In the moment it about instinct and trust, not second guessing and micro managing. As such I never ask people to do specific things on gigs. My basic score for any improv gig is an imaginary piece of paper that says “you’re amazing. Just be amazing” – and that’s intended as an invitation to just be, not a pressure exercise. You are already amazing.

So it is with Pete Fraser – an incredibly versatile musician, as much at home playing pop horn arrangements on TV as improvising in tiny Birmingham clubs with me. He really is amazing – I love his playing and greatly value his friendship and that vital curiosity. He’s a skilled chef, and that same spirit of mixing ingredients and respecting the laws of physics is at work in his music.

And, like me, he’s restless. His music evolves, his influences develop, his particular focus is what it is on the day of the gig. Before this show we hadn’t met since the day we recorded Intersect, but we’d both grown in the intervening two years and the music here reflects that. Pete’s use of delay and an octaver is particularly note worthy here, and once again the speed with which he reacted to anything I threw at him was nothing short of telepathic. We’ve grown and evolved and this is where we were at on that day. Like Miles and Sabbath and Eric B & Rakim, hindsight offers us the chance to reflect on the consequences of that particular quest in a more considered environment. And for the people that were there, there’s the opportunity to revisit the musical part of the experience, outwith the venue and away from the company, the extraneous sounds, the weather and the sight of us playing and interacting. That changes things. A lot. So much that the music isn’t meaningfully the same. We hear music in relation to all those things, it comments on them and reflects them back to us. That’s perhaps why music is the most repeatable of the arts, the one we encounter intentionally again and again. The music is a conversationalist, not the musician. It’s the music we hear asking us questions about where we are and what’s going on. As much for the people playing it as those in the audience. We are jointly bearing witness to this questioning and no one is thankfully expected to come up with a definitive answer. Music that tries to do that, for me, is selling us short. As with all the best research one of the most reassuring findings is always just the acknowledgment that “it’s complicated”. Life is complex, and this here’s a soundtrack that’ll hopefully invite you to rest easy in the midst of that complexity and as Martyn Joseph once sang, “Treasure The Questions”.

 

Birmingham Gig on November 25th!

Right, this one is a little last minute, but I’ve got a gig on November 25th, with the properly brilliant Pete Fraser:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/solobasssteve/45632670572/sizes/m/

Look how smiley we are! We’d just recorded an album when this was taken, on the same day we met… therein lies a tale, that involves mutual friends and lots of chatting about stuff on Twitter. But the point is, we made this: 

It’s a properly lovely album, I’m sure you’ll agree. And now we’re finally – two years after recording it – going to do a gig. So I guess this is the album launch gig. And we’ll record it, so you’ll also get to be there at the birth of album number 2… Which is exciting. 

Putting on gigs in 2018 is hard. Long gone are the days when social media was a delicious free-for-all where interesting music had a currency that meant people would see it and share it around for all to discover. That happened a LOT from 2008-2012, but then all the filters and algorithms kicked in and they made it harder for us. I’ll run a couple of FB ads for this, but really, we just need you who are reading this to tell a friend or two about the gig, and if you’re coming to grab some other friends. 

Tickets are only £8, and they include a download of the album! …in fact, if you’re a Student, or unwaged or in the MU (musician’s union), it’s only £4. And you still get the free album. 

Here’s the link to the info and tickets: https://music.stevelawson.net/merch/steve-lawson-and-pete-fraser-gig-birmingham-25-11-18 

See you there, OK? x 

Happy Fourth Birthday To my Bandcamp Subscription!

Today is the fourth anniversary of the launch of my subscription!

It’s easily been the best decision of my entire recording career to move away from the idea that each 45-60 minute chunk of recorded work requires me to press 1000 CDs, do a massive marketing campaign (‘massive’ is a relative term 😉 ) and then ‘tour’ those tunes.

steve lawson bandcamp subscription releases from 2018


As an improvisor, the result of 20 years of continuous revision of my approach and the equipment that makes it possible, as well as the opportunities I’ve had to play with some truly world class, astonishing musicians, means that I have hours and hours of remarkable music piled up that needs an outlet. And the subscription gives me the ‘headroom’ to release it all.

Click here to see everything that’s on offer in the subscription!


The number of subscribers who avidly consume everything I put out the moment it’s released is pretty small – people’s lives don’t accommodate that, which is why it’s only £30, not some £200 a year uber-exclusive club for obsessives. It’s pitched so that people who want to dip in and out can do so at a price that makes it easier than buying individual albums, that gives them access to video and the occasional eBook or transcription that otherwise aren’t available…


The subscribers are a truly amazing and beautiful part of this experiment to see another way of making and sharing music in a sustainable way online. What does the internet make possible that previous models didn’t? This is one exploration of that, and I want to give a massive thank you and a virtual hug to everyone who’s been a part of this so far – every collaborator, every subscriber, current or lapsed (I explicitly chose Bandcamp so people had the choice to unsubscribe and still keep all the music – this is not a ‘rental’ scheme to trap people, I’d rather feel the motivation to continue making it valuable for existing subscribers year on year…)


Here’s to the next four years!!


(massive shout out to Andy Edwards, Phi Yaan-Zek, Bryan Corbett, Corey Mwamba, Robert Logan, Rich Brown, Poppy Porter, Pete Fraser, Julie Slick, Jem Godfrey and Michael Manring for their contributions/collaborations and general awesome musical magique! 🙂 )

First Track from Beauty And Desolation by Steve Lawson

If you’ve been following my social media ramblings for the last couple of months, you’ll know that I’ve just finished a new solo album, titled Beauty And Desolation. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, and I’m really looking forward to it being out there in the world. So here’s the first video from it. The album was all recorded live in the studio, and I’ve got footage of five of the 7 tracks – so this is the actual studio footage of the track being recorded, rather than some kind of elaborate recreation of what’s actually an entirely improvised performance.

Here’s the press release for the album, which has already been re-blogged by the good people of Bass Player Magazine.

STEVE LAWSON: BEAUTY AND DESOLATION

BIRMINGHAM, UK—It doesn’t take much to get Steve Lawson talking about improv, and on the eve of the release of his 27th solo album, Beauty And Desolation, he’s eager to riff on the relationship between improv and the studio. Continue reading “First Track from Beauty And Desolation by Steve Lawson”

Launching the Steve Lawson Listening Club

I’ve just started a new thing as part of my Bandcamp subscription. I’m calling it the Steve Lawson Listening Club, for want of a better name (alternate suggestions welcome!) and it’ll work a bit like a book club but for the music in the subscriber back catalogue offering. Every other week, we’ll take one album from the back catalogue that everyone has, listen to it, I’ll contribute the back story, some context, a bit of extra info about how and why it sounds the way it does, will see if I can dig up photos and video if it was a live gig, and everyone else can pile in with comments, reviews, questions and discussion about that particular album.

This stems from an oft-repeated comment on the subscription which is that there’s more than enough for a subscriber to listen to with the new music that comes out each year (normally somewhere between 8-10 albums, plus a bunch of extra exclusive video content between releases!) that the volume of music that just comes as a bundle with your first year’s subscription is overwhelming in its vastness. I get this for sure, so here’s a way to delve into it.

The discussion will happen via the message feed on the subscription page (as soon as you sign up you get access to all the past messages, exclusive videos and other discussions) and you’re all invited to sign up and join in. Maybe the results will one day get compiled into a book of extended essays and commentary on my body of work 🙂

Anyway, head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe to join the fun!

Crossing The River – When Albums Move From Product To Chapter

I’ve finally started work on mixing the rest of the recordings from the FingerPainting project. The existing recordings are from 2012-2013, all ten shows available as a download, a complete document of everything that Daniel Berkman, Artemis and I had played together up until that point. But we did another tour in 2014, and until this week, they’d remained untouched in my Reaper-recordings-vault. Too massive a venture to contemplate, especially after the absolutely mammoth task of mixing and mastering the first lot, which put a huge strain on the rest of my life for about four months in 2013. However, this week I decided to see what would happen if I mixed and mastered them really quickly – applied a much lighter touch than I did to the processing last time round – FingerPainting was right at the beginning of my journey with professional-quality mastering work, and the project taught me SO much. But it also took an extraordinary amount of time, as I worked on getting the perfect sound for every aspect.  Continue reading “Crossing The River – When Albums Move From Product To Chapter”