Review: Simon Little’s “Mandala”
A solo bass guitar record improvised live that often sounds nothing like bass guitar, Simon Little‘s Mandala is enjoyable, highly listenable and varied both sonically and in terms of mood. Little manages all this despite recording the whole album using one bass, his Warwick Thumb VI. Little joins a select group of bassists who make highly musical recordings using looped bass such as Michael Manring, Steve Lawson and Trip Walmsley, following in the footsteps of bassists Eberhard Weber and Jaco Pastorius use of looping that initially grabbed the bassist’s interest.
A graduate of Guildhall School of Music, Little has a growing reputation on upright and electric bass with artists from jazz and beyond, with the likes of Claire Teal, Divine Comedy, Duckworth Lewis Method, Duke Special, Nick Cave, Ben Folds, Ian Shaw and Maggie Reilly. Little has a wide following on the internet too, thanks to his creative use of social media and blogging.
Mandala‘s tracks are multi-layered loops and utilize a wide range of effects and sounds. At times the soundscapes bring Eno to mind and at others the influence of Steve Lawson is unavoidable, but this is very much Little’s record. His best moments here involve melodic lines and evocative soundscapes but there is a refreshing wildness to his playing at times which adds greatly to the recording.
Little is adept at creating moods. I love the way tracks like “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor” begin with sustained, almost choral sounding tones and lure the listener in to the layers of melody, bass lines and percussive grooves. “Sometimes it Rains in August” begins similarly synth-like, and layers a dream-like chorus of melodies and chordal parts on bass. The tracks take the listener on a journey, letting the story unfold over time organically rather than in traditional song structures.
The gorgeous “Ohm is Where the Art Is” develops lyrical lines over a simple descending chord sequence, the lines becoming gradually more complex and more radically effected as the piece develops, ending in washes of synth-like sound. Meditative soundscapes contrast with more rhythmic and extroverted pieces like “The Redemptive Powers of Temporary Insanity”.
“West of Eden” lays a chiming blanket of rich harmonics over which the bass guitarist adds melancholic chords and evocative melodic lines. “Calling Out” also uses harmonics alongside percussive bass to create the background for a lovingly phrased solo that features a great backwards effect and a shred-like distorted tone that threatens to capsize the tune, but never does.
Little’s titles are memorable works in themselves. “Gil’s Glass Harmonica” is both a treasure of a title and a tune, creating a rich sonic tapestries of overlapping and interlocking lines that the Eno/Manzanera like E-bowed line sits over perfectly when it enters.
I particularly loved “Light & Shade”, which makes great use of echo/delay in the intro and contrasts melodic sections in a minor key. The chordal melody moved me and the use of envelope filter and delay effected bubbling soloing over a dark simple bass line is haunting indeed.
A very enjoyable record then, thoughtful without being cerebral and expressive while still being highly listenable. Now it’s going to be interesting to see how he does this material live!
Simon Little: bass guitar, Looperlative LP-1
Mandala is available as a CD or download from Little’s website.