Steve Lawson - "Grace and Gratitude"
(Pillow Mountain Records 2004, pmr 0015)
From Aural Innovations #29 (October 2004)
For the sake of those unfamiliar with Steve Lawson, it's obligatory to begin each review by noting that he is a solo bassist that uses real time looping, recording in real time and then playing over the top, and doing so by the rule of "all live, no additional overdubs". Grace and Gratitude is his third solo album, in addition to two other releases with pianist Jez Carr and sax/flute player Theo Travis. But the recordings only tell part of the story, as Steve is a busy performer, having collaborated in concert with fellow bassists Michael Manring and John Lester, and guitarist Muriel Anderson among others.
In the CD notes Steve points out that Grace and Gratitude is his first attempt at a thematic approach to an album, the idea being to explore different aspects of grace, gratitude and respect, influenced by Dr. Ulrich Loening, who said in regards to refuse that we're always throwing things away, yet the fact of our ecosystem is such that there really is no "away". Steve makes no claims to a link between the theme and the music, but with these thoughts in mind I fused my brain to the headphones and settled in for the 75 minute ride.
In a past review I described Steve as a one man cosmic symphony, and Grace and Gratitude is easily his most cosmic work to date. The title track opens the set, a peacefully drifting light jazz melody surrounded by a slowly swirling ambience. "The Journey Of A Thousand Miles..." is next and leads us deep into meditative cosmic space. Steve lulls along with an easy paced bass jam, encircled by waves of pulsations and drones that reach orbit breaking heights of brain massaging intensity. "The Kindness Of Strangers" is a standout track that has a melodic light jazz core, but with an ever present spacey ambient vibe that continues to build and evolve into something deeply spacious. I love the combination of simple pleasant melody, hovering ambient waves, and aggressive whining and soaring Fripp styled licks. In fact, there's lots on this track that many will insist is guitar. But remember... no guitar or synths... all BASS.
Other highlights include "The Space Between The Silence". This one really took me by surprise with its rock orientation and brain bubbling psychedelia that brings to mind contemporary Space Rock bands like Quarkspace and especially Architectural Metaphor. Honestly, this sounds like a guitar/bass/keyboards trio. Way to go Lawson!! And dig that ultra funky groove on "Shizzle". Like Shaft in space with Fripp sitting in.
I got so wrapped up in the music that I completely forgot about Steve's theme for the album until I reached track 8 and its title, "You Can't Throw It Away (There's No Such Thing As Away)", which at just over 14 minutes is the longest track of the set. The music has a dark, somber mood, a floating spaced out symphonic quality, and is probably the most texturally rich piece on the album. It's slow and subtle, but includes multiple parallel lines of melody and sound that are simultaneously harsh and soothing.
In summary, I've got to credit Steve with his own unique and, dare I say, innovative brand of fusion, bringing together disparate styles and influences in ways that defy categorization or easy description. And while I've enjoyed all of his recordings, Grace and Gratitude is my hands down favorite to date. HIGHEST recommendation.
For more information you can visit the Steve Lawson web site at: http://www.stevelawson.net.
Visit the Pillow Mountain Records web site at: http://www.pillowmountainrecords.co.uk.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz