HB3 - "Studies For Traps And Piccolo"
From Aural Innovations #43 (October 2011)
HB3 is the name of (at least) one mysterous musician who's weapon of choice is the piccolo bass, a variation on the bass guitar, which plays one octave below a standard guitar, and one octave above a regular bass. Any thoughts of a solo bass album might bring to mind the funk-fusion work of players like Stanley Clarke, who has been known to utilise a piccolo bass on albums like Future Shock. However, Studies For Traps And Piccolo sounds absolutely nothing like Stanley Clarke, fusion, funk, or any other bass album you have ever heard, with influences from folk to shred metal. Although some previous HB3 albums appear to have featured keyboards and even vocals, Studies For Traps And Piccolo is almost exclusively performed on piccolo bass, with just a drum track as accompaniment. This would seem to be a daunting listen to even the most dedicated bass affectionado, but HB3 (presumably a "he", rather than a "she" or "they", at least judging by the album cover) manages to pull out a range of styles over the course of this 35 minute album, using numerous effects including the Univox Super-Fuzz pedal deployed by Hendrix and Pete Townshend.
Opening track Rocket Science features hugely distorted guitar-like riffing, which is further extended on Leroy Of the Ancient World (supposedly based on the adventures of a caveman battling dinosaurs on an alien world), coming across like a minimalist version of Joe Satriani. These high-octane slabs of heavy metal are interspersed with delicate finger-picking and strumming (yes, strumming!) on The Machineries Of Joy and Firefisher, the former sounding like a mandolin, and the latter coming off like a 12 string Led Zeppelin III ballad. It is not so much HB3's technique that is astonishing, as that getting these kind of sounds out of a bass could even be conceived. Brutal Bed is different again, consisting of a five minute blast of unaccompanied white noise (the publicity sheet asks listeners to imagine Karl Stockhausen sneaking into the sessions for Detroit Rock City, a curiously apt description). Tyrannosaurus Rex is a return to dinosaur themes and metallic riffing, followed by the almost-bluesy The Abyss, calling to mind some of Clapton's soundtrack work from the '80's. The album closes with what is unfortunately the weakest track, The One Who Waits, which is let down a little by its tinny-sounding drum track, although the bass is as wonderfully distorted and menacing as ever.
Once you get used to the fact that this is very far from being a traditional bass album, Studies For Bass And Traps yields up more with every listen for anyone wanting to try a more experimental approach to instrumental rock. Meanwhile, HB3 has already released a couple of follow-up albums in 2011, those being Magic Circles and Real $hit, the latter being a collaborative effort with Austin-producer/DJ/vocalist Cabrini Green, which promises more tales of the unexpected.
For more information you can visit the HB3 web site at: http://www.hb3.com
Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Studies For Traps And Piccolo", and other albums by HB3, can be ordered from CDBaby at http://www.cdbaby.com
Reviewed by Pat Albertson