Flipping through the contributing members’ photographs, I thought I’d start by counting the number of strings on each bass guitar. Four, five, six and seven strings were all represented, including Scott Reeder’s Katana 8. That’s quite some range, which had me curious about the sonic experiments that would be undertaken on “Crush”, the debut album by Bassists Alliance.
I am familiar with Alberto Rigoni’s production work on the Vivaldi Metal Project, a baroque and metal celebration of the masterful composer’s “The Four Seasons”, but less so with Jeff Hughell, co-producer on “Crush”. May I suggest that you watch Jeff’s Six Feet Under “Exploratory Homicide” guitar and bass playthrough on Youtube? First class. From the album cover I deduce that different playing styles will be melded together to produce a record that focuses on bass guitar as melody driver. It’s an instrumental album, and if you are able to commit to it, you’re sure of a rewarding listening experience.
The album starts on a sombre note with “From where it all began”. I am immediately drawn to the sustained singing of the bass that makes me think of Mick Karn’s sound in Japan (a visual kei band active from the late seventies to the early eighties). “From where it all began” features Michael Manring, a contemporary of Jaco Pastorius. It is a stripped down track that piques my interest for what’s to come. “Crush”, the album title track, opens with quick and fancy finger work. There are three bassists at work here, namely Alberto Rigoni, Adam Nitti (solo artist, and session musician) and Jeff Hughell. I wonder how they decided who would play what part, as I can distinguish low end, melody and percussive elements in this track. This also has me curious about how the album was recorded, whether each bassist recorded his part in his own studio or otherwise together in a session. There’s a bit of fusion, and a bit of prog rock on this one.
“Evolution Theory” sees Jeff Hughell paired with Dmitry Lisenko, acoustic bass wizard. To hear a bit of his playing, hop over to Bandcamp where you can listen to his solo release, “minimalist”. “Evolution Theory” is discordant and moody, like a composition you’d expect from the band, Tool. At times, melodic – like in the intro, and other times percussive, the contrast in sounds is refreshing. I enjoy how the bass is played in a fingerstyle manner. Some time ago, I discovered a tech death band called Entheos (the female vocals are absolutely brutal) who enlist Evan Brewer on bass guitar. If you enjoy “Evolution Theory” you may also enjoy Evan’s solo work released under his own name on Sumerian Records. Point being, there is a world of solo bass work out there waiting to be discovered.
Mark Michell and Brandino join Jeff Hughell for “Subsonic Derailment”. Mark, a jazz musician and bass guitar teacher, also records with prog metallists Scale the Summit. Kevin “Brandino” Brandon’s Warwick bass promo on Youtube showcases some of his tone and bass flair, and had me excited for what “Subsonic Derailment” would be about. No wonder then that it made me think of Tananas, a world renowned jazz outfit hailing from South Africa. The track has a great groove, and like the title says, some deviations are to be expected along the way. Blast beats, arpeggios and harmonics all play a part in this one. I enjoy how the pace is varied here. Midway through, a marching drum signals the continuation of our journey on an alternate path. Two basses feed off each other here, creating beautiful melodies. In this track, I hear how a bass guitar could be a vocalist, and I’m surprised by its sitar-like sound at the end.
One of my favourite tracks, “The Gate” introduces Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) alongside the two producers, Rigoni and Hughell. Do yourself a favour and listen to “Fear of a Blank Planet”, if you’re not familiar with Colin’s work. In this song, three bass lines are threaded together, but you’re still able to follow each one. I just wish that it lasted longer!
If you’re in the mood for some bass distortion, you’ll find your fill on “Extreme Density”. There’s Ryan Martinie (Mudvayne) as well as Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Sadus), two bass heavyweights renowned for their technical abilities. It’s an experimental track that gives me the same feeling as the Imperial March – suitably Darth Vader’s theme. There aren’t similarities in the melodies; it’s more the picture of an unstoppable war machine marching towards you.
Jeff Hughell flies solo on the contemplative “Echoes through time”. The tin drum and other percussion compliment the bass melody nicely, and it is clear that the bass guitar can at once be sweet sounding and menacing. Tony Grey joins in the fray that is “Daily Trauma”. A recipient of Berklee College of Music’s Outstanding Performer award, he is a renowned 6-string electric bass player. On this track it sounds to me like descending and ascending scales are played off against one another, but take a listen and help me describe it correctly. There is also a particular bass filter sound present that was made iconic for me by Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine). There’s even some funk in there, and I remain surprised at the sheer range of the bass guitar.
The other favourite is “Tapping Wires”, with Scott Reeder (Kyuss) and Leonid Maksimov. Watch Leonid perform at Warwick Day with his bass project, LeonixoN, here
For me, it carries memories of New Order’s “Low Life” album. Peter Hook often played in the higher registers, and there’s a chorus filter on the bass that transports me back to the early ‘80’s. Having drummed on all tracks prior, Phil Cage hands over to Maxim Rubtsov for this one.
“Floating through canyons” is a moody album closer, and returns us to the contemplative realm where we started our listening journey. I can’t decide whether it’s a talk box or a slow oscillating bass wah, but I can hear how this track could conjure up images of floating through canyons. Do you remember the desert scene from Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, The Doors? “Floating through canyons” is perfect for that scene. The Bassists Alliance album, “Crush” presents the bass guitar in a number of nontraditional guises, and shows just how versatile this guardian of the low end can be. I enjoy how each bassist added his individual style, but overall how unified the sound is. This bears testimony to the careful planning that went into composing each track. If you want to hear a fresh perspective on bass guitar, “Crush” is for you. It scores 7/10.
Written by Karakul
1. From where it all began (Rigoni, Edwin, Manring)
2. Crush (Rigoni, Nitti, Hughell)
3. Evolution theory (Hughell, Lisenko)
4. Subsonic derailment (Hughell, Brandino, Michell)
5. The Gate (Rigoni, Edwin, Hughell)
6. Extreme density (Hughell, Martinie, Di Giorgio)
7. Echoes through time (Hughell)
8. Daily Trauma (Rigoni, Grey, Hughell)
9. Tapping wires (Reeder, Maksimov)
10. Floating through canyons (Hughell, Reeder)
Adam Nitti (bass guitar)
Alberto Rigoni (bass guitar)
Brandino (bass guitar)
Colin Edwin (bass guitar)
Dmitry Lisenko (bass guitar)
Jeff Hughell (bass guitar)
Leonid Maksimov (bass guitar)
Mark Michell (bass guitar)
Maxim Rubtsov (drums)
Michael Manring (bass guitar)
Phil Cage (drums)
Ryan Martinie (bass guitar)
Scott Reeder (bass guitar)
Steve DiGiorgio (bass guitar)
Tony Grey (bass guitar)
Record Label: Independent
Release Date: December 15, 2017
“Crush” (full-length, 2017)
Video for Alberto Rigoni & Adam Nitti bass recording sessions