Simon Little – The Knowledge Of Things To Come (solo bass/ ambient)

self released, 2011, DD album, 44m 39s


Simon Little’s EP Rejectamenta, ostensibly composed of material rejected for inclusion on this album, was an interesting recording in its own right, and implied certain promises about the creative direction in which Little might be moving. I’m glad to say, he’s as good as his word.

Before I even start to address the compositional and artistic aspects of The Knowledge Of Things To Come, it’s very pleasing to hear an audible development in Simon Little the bass player. There is a sense of maturity about his melodic improvisation, a sense of ‘content’, that he is expressing a meaning with every note, where on his debut Mandala there was often a feeling in faster passages that they were best read as a texture. He displays a detailed lyricism, and a moment by moment concern for the emotional impact of his lines.

What he does not do as an improviser is show much interest in harmonic structures or movements. While the live looping format he works in does not lend itself to long phrase harmonic rhythms, it is still in the improviser’s gift to impose their will on the harmony, and to articulate a static modality from a succession of perspectives, with some sense of verticality in the note choice. There is much mileage in lyrical modalism as an improvising practice, but Little is clearly a musician on the move, and it would be interesting to hear what he would have to say if he applied himself to harmony.

Some of the material on this album is of the calm, atmospheric sort that is often characteristic of the solo bass live looper, but much of it employs a more emphatic and angular rhythmic approach. ‘babel fish’, ‘l for leather’ and ‘some mysterious song’ are all funky, although their overall feeling is still mellow; several songs employ glitchy sounds, like broken pots or sockets wobbling, to provide a percussive framework; ‘the band sounds like typewriters’, with its introduction of rapid fire harmonics, has a rhythm that sounds like, well, typewriters.

There is not much natural, unprocessed bass guitar sound on this record. Little has an armoury of effects at his disposal, and he makes expert use of them, whether it is to slather reverb and distortion on his C string, to rhythmically multiply his articulations, to harmonise his notes, or to transform a chord into a smooth, ethereal pad, that sounds as though it was generated by a synthesiser.

In fact, this range of timbres and sounds is the musical palette that Little the composer works with: his pieces have beginnings, middles and ends, and they have melodic content aplenty, but the heart and soul of them, for me, is the succession of textures, and the way in which they are transformed and contrasted. I hesitate to call this music ambient, because, although it has a soft and enveloping character, in detail it is full of hard corners and abrasive textures, as much as it is full of soft and rounded ones; it is very much about ambience, however.

Littlepresents a series of atmospheres, a selection of airs for us to inhale. They do not take us to extreme places: there is a tang of melancholy, but there is also a sense of purposeful movement. The experience of listening is highly rewarding, for the continual sonic transformations, and the ongoing flow of ideas, as well as for the moods he creates. The Knowledge Of Things To Come is the work of a thoughtful and very creative musician, and one who shows signs of development and growth with every new release.

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