Thursday, 14 July 2011

Evan Brewer – “Alone” (review).

About six years ago I got back into playing bass guitar. After a long absence the instrument and I began a long period of re-acquaintance, reconciliation and shared growth. My ever suffering partner bought me a clunky little short-scale Pignose four-string with a built in mini-amp and speaker. Pulling the single volume knob on that little creature engages the amp and lets her sing. Turning the volume further up causes the little amp to overload and the speaker would rattle if it had the room, but it does not so the whole body resonates with the nasal, high mid-frequency sounds. In other words, it is less the little pink pig of its namesake and closer to something like a runty but tough and wily warthog.

Stanley Clarke once said something along the lines that it takes about ten years or two hundred gigs before one truly knows his/her instrument. Well, six years (and no gigs) later, her speaker works only intermittently and her strings have been changed but only once. Yet her single bridge humbucker and way too hot output are able to express my playing more exactly than instruments ten times her value. The key here is intimacy. I am certainly only a barely competent player, but my knowledge - harmonic, muscular, visual, tactile – which has developed over time with her has made me better able to express myself at the same time as her inherent beauty. A perfect match?

Evan Brewer’s first solo album, “Alone” is a showpiece of his excellent playing skills and more so his ability as a harmonically sophisticated composer. Coming to this album is not easy and it is hard to know just who it is intended for. After all, even for a bass player, locating the bass in the metal mix is not always easy (see list at bottom for some recommendations) and solo albums tend to somewhat dreary affairs, especially by bassists. Bass players have this knack for falling into an inescapable rut wherein the entire world is compressed and distilled into jazz-fusion fuelled by super high fidelity, out of context session musicians who lend little character to the proceedings and a few covers of “classics”. Thankfully, Brewer avoids all of the above.

Everything on “Alone” is composed by Brewer himself and again everything is bass. Perhaps there is somewhat of an over-abundance of “slappity-plank” sounds (personally, I love the more subdued legato runs and reversed chordal swell over-dubs on this album) but the compositions themselves are what save this from being a timbre driven Armageddon. Subtle harmonic variations on repetitions make not only for a pleasant listen but an engaging one as Brewer modulates a note here or there, changing the feel. The other stand out feature of this album is that the melodic and harmonic progressions are more classically, or classic metal oriented which lend the compositions a freshness somewhat reminiscent of distortion-less Cliff Burton via Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Finally, clocking in at under half an hour and without excursions into jamming, this is a very listenable album. Go Brewer!

Extreme Metal (With Bass)

Metal albums where bass players (a) tear up the joint with amazing playing/technique and/or (b) have fully gnarled totally audible recorded tones.

Suffocation – Pierced From Within

Atheist – Unquestionable Presence

Cynic - Focus

Death – Individual Thought Patterns, Sound of Perseverance

Pestilence – Spheres, Doctrine

Sepultura – Chaos A.D.

Obscura – Cosmogenesis

Krallice – Diotima

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