Steve Lawson has a habit of recording ever note he plays, which has been shown in the past to archive some fascinating improvisations, both alone and with other like minded performers. Ever one for challenging projects, solo bass player Lawson has collaborated on “Finger Painting” with Daniel Berkman who is here featured playing electronic percussion, ukulele, Gravikord (a 24 string, electric, double bridged harp) and synthesisers, from sessions orchestrated by San Franciscan singer Artemis, who can herself be heard on these recordings.
To provide some background, Lawson has played 10 improvised shows with Berkman which have been recorded and are to be released as a 10 album, 11 hour download, USB stick or “best of” 2 CD set. One show has already been released as “Accidentally (On Purpose)” in January 2013. This particular set features pieces differing greatly in mood and texture. “Antidote to Everything” has a wraithlike feel which gathers momentum from gently dripping bass lines to roasting shards of looped and treated distortion. The percussion, always lying enigmatically under the surface, is the vehicle over which the whole improvisation rides. “Towards the Sun” opens with dolorous tones shifting steadily over otherworldly soundscapes. Gently picked phrases break the layers of sound, creating music that would not be out of place in a cathedral setting.
The title track “Finger Painting” uses a groove laden percussion pattern as its springboard, which, over its 13 minute duration regenerates into an almost pastoral arrangement, before gently drifting back into a bubbling funk. There is a psychedelic folk element to “The Further Adventures of Mantis and Stick” which is steadily lifted with broken beats and loop fragments which change direction and consistency at the flick of a foot pedal. Vocals by Artemis provide a further textural coating on “Invocation” and “Reunion”, and there are moments here where one needs to remind themselves that these pieces are improvised with no rehearsal such is the sensitivity and communication. Occasionally the mood is broken with a crackle of heavily distorted guitar, but the overall ambience is sublime reflection. The beauty of many of these improvisations is their total inability to be classified. The final “Reunion” could be thought of as world music, jazz, ambient, funk or improvisation, when in fact it is a subtle blend of all these genres.
In “Finger Painting” Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman have created music that will be experienced on a different level from its original creation. In live performance the audience almost have a palpable sense of being involved in the construction of each piece, whereas a recording of the event excludes the audience from that role. Listening to these recordings as repeatable releases however allows the listener access to instant compositions that document a time, place and atmosphere. There is an argument to suggest these pieces are a personal listening experience, to be enjoyed, as many do in these days of private mp3 players, with intimacy and contemplation. I believe this to be the case here. “Finger Painting” requires your attention and will reward you in many different ways on many different occasions.