Stuart Hamm - "Just Outside Of Normal"
(UBIKMUSIK.BMI, 2010, 666449700125)
From Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011)
American bassist Stuart Hamm has been playing rhythm section to superstar guitarists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani for well over 25 years, and in that time he has also released four studio albums, the most recent one being 2000's "Outbound". 2010 saw the release of solo album number five, "Just Outside Of Normal", which features nine bass-led tracks in a variety of styles, including blues boogie, jazz, neo-baroque and even a polka. This might not be the rock album that fans of Hamm's work with Vai and Satriani would expect, but it certainly delivers plenty of electrifying and highly original bass playing.
Guitarist Joe Satriani guests on album-opener "The Obligatory Boogie" and "Windsor Mews", the former being a self-explanatory slap-and-pop number, and the latter being a kind of rock ballad; both being the kind of crowd-pleasing material that Hamm and Satch played together on their last tour. By way of total contrast, Hamm separates the two with a stunning instrumental arrangement of Led Zeppelin's folk classic "Going To California", using delicate picking and chords on the bass to follow the vocal melody. Next comes "The Clarinet Polka", a live and apparently spontaneous piece which came about when a party goer shouted for the band to play a polka; up stepped accordion player Alison Lovejoy to provide the necessary accompaniment. Once again, the bass takes the lead, and Hamm delivers some mind-boggling fretwork, albeit in a decidedly non-rock context. He pushes the boundaries even further with a beautiful arrangement of Albinoni's "Adagio In G Minor", originally written for organ and strings, and played here as a duet between Hamm and former Acoustic Alchemy keyboardist Terry Disley. Meanwhile, "Big Roller" is takes on swing jazz and features soprano sax and violins, soloing over great walking basslines. "Uniformitarianism" (apparently taken from a book on "Forbidden Archaeology") and the title track are both slow-grooving melodic pieces, as is album-closer "Lucidity", the sole vocal number, which also features King Crimson's Robert Fripp on rather restrained guitar.
To sum things up, "Just Outside Of Normal" might confuse and even disappoint fans of traditional rock, metal and fusion. However, for the more adventurous listener, this album can be seen as a genre-defying bass masterclass, providing hope for frustrated bassists getting tired of holding down the root note for hours at a time.
Visit Stu's website at http://www.stuarthamm.net
The album can be ordered from CD baby at http://www.cdbaby.com
Reviewed by Pat Albertson