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20 Years On

I remember Steve Lawson‘s album Ten Years On (2010), which was released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his first solo bass album. That first album was And Nothing But the Bass (2000), which collected together recordings from several of his early solo gigs, including his debut in that mode, in December 1999. I wasn’t at the first gig but I did get the album and I’ve collected most of those he has released since then (early on in CD format; more recently by the option of subscribing to, and thus supporting, his work via Bandcamp).

Last night was his celebratory 20th anniversary gig – a solo set from Steve, and an ‘illuminated loops’ set with synaesthetic artist Poppy Porter, bookended by discussions on the audience response to improvised music, which is part of Steve’s research for the PhD he is working on.

One of the things I love about Steve’s gigs is that the music is keyed into a combination of factors, like who is in the audience and the space where it is happening – also the filters of what Steve has been playing, listening too and pondering. You know know you are going to be part of a unique evening. It is a different social contract to seeing an up and coming band showing the fruits of hard rehearsal time or an older act, chained to rehashing their greatest hits to keep the (high-paying) crowds happy. The fact Steve can record his gigs in high quality and release many of those as albums allows the music to be experienced more widely but is is a different experience to being at the gig.

That isn’t to demean the albums. Not least, they must contribute to making the gigs possible. I have to confess that I haven’t seen Steve perform in much bigger venues but there is something about his oeuvre which seems ideally suited to small, intimate spaces where he knows most of the audience.

I also think his approach benefits from his collaborative improvisations – whether with Poppy’s art or various other musicians – even when he is playing purely solo. If Steve was the one doing the painting, I wonder if he’d start by splashing some colour on the canvas to give something to work off? He is certainly making more use of other sounds texturing his sonic canvas, like glitchy drumbeats or field recordings (randomly selected from a small, ever changing pool).

Maybe when the album of last night’s performance comes out, I’ll listen to it back to back with And Nothing But the Bass and see what similarities and differences I can hear. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to another twenty years and more of responsive bass improvisation from Mr L.

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