Session bassist Simon Little is probably best known for his work with The Divine Comedy, Clare Teal and Ian Shaw. He is also to be found on recordings by Chris Difford, Jamie Cullum, Beth Rowley, Ben Folds and Norma Winstone. He is, however, an accomplished improviser and composer in his own right, and his latest release, available through his own website and Bandcamp, features nine recordings of spontaneous music played on acoustic bass using token effects and loops. Improvised music could be argued to be at the very essence of composition. Inventiveness and lateral thinking in real time may be considered to be a truly honest expression of sentiment and reaction. What Simon Little shows us here is how this can be put into practice.
“(Un) Plugged” begins with the gently meandering “Frostbite” which immediately exposes the intimacy of the playing, as each squeal of guitar string and finger tap can be heard through gossamer thin bass lines. Phrases echo, delay and glide behind bass lines that appear to emanate directly from the musicians’ very core. Becoming more strident in tone “In the Out” loses none of the intimacy, but displays more vigour and buoyancy. Loops and effects appear momentarily, but do not drench the fragility of the lines. Bubbling electronics are evident just below the surface on “Lie Down and Be Counted”, whilst melodies play joyfully in the foreground. The title “Repetition is a Form of Change” describes perfectly the route on which the piece takes, as looped phrases, and repeated passages maintain the momentum, over which solo improvised lines weave. The repetitive bass lines become more muscular on “Kalimba”, and the multi-directional electronics provide a bed of warm sound upon which short, sharp frenetic guitar cascades over the harmony. One cannot help but be reminded of the twitter of birdsong as these blues-like phrases tear through the wilderness. “Breathe” and “The Avant Gardner” scatter fragile harmonics with poignant vignettes, whilst the closing “Midas Barber” encompasses all the elements that have previously been explored, into a tender, effects laden, stream of melancholia.
Each piece on “(Un) Plugged” indicates how the improviser/composer can manipulate mood over time, and through a myriad of tiny, delicate, tapestries of sound, use the solo instrument to extraordinary end. Taken in its entirety, “(Un) Plugged” shows an artist who can deftly combine the modern technology of looping and electronic alchemy, yet somehow still manage to give the music an organic quality and an intimacy that can so very often be missing from the processed sound. Live looping with bass guitar can be heard to good effect on albums by such luminaries as Eberhard Weber, but on “(Un) Plugged” Simon Little shows how much he has to offer the discipline, and how much of his own character can be woven into his music. Each piece on the album is a journey, both in sound and sensation that can leave the listener staring into their very sentient being. There is much introspection within these tracks, but there is always a place in everyone’s heart for music that can facilitate that opportunity.