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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Recording review - Simon Little, [un]plugged (2012)

Live looped improvisations from a master bass player

Simon Little plays his bass at the cusp of organic and electronic. The emphasis is on the human element with warm tone, natural phrasing, and a bit of finger squeak. But Little peers over the edge, using looping and occasionally mixing in more heavily processed tones to challenge his listeners.

The chemistry of live looping is inherently different than the interaction of a band. At its worst, the player can get so distracted by the technology and thinking ahead that the music loses its spark of creativity. But the best loopers seem to naturally sense how to set a foundation and evolve a piece into a complex, beautiful construction. Even as [un] plugged shows off Little's skilled looping, it's his rich sonic palette that allows the tunes to find their own musical spaces.

Little's jazz sensibility infuses the pieces, but a pervasive dreamy vibe, electronic sounds, and modal playing gesture towards some New Age influences as well. One of his more interesting decisions was to rely solely on a Breedlove acoustic bass. Like a cross between a standard acoustic guitar and an electric bass, this instrument has a unique tone and feel: a little thinner than an electric bass, but breathing with resonance.

The chill wash of tone with a slight tremolo starting frostbite was a good opening for the album, but it was the second track, into the out that really spoke to me. It starts out with a simple, sparse melody. The song gets underway with a tight rhythmic loop that sets a tabla-like beat. Little works through the melody, building a suspenseful mood that recalls In the Hall of the Mountain King. After working his theme, Little steps out into flashier playing. Speedy, treble toned riffs rattle and then the section is repeated in reverse, back masked notes sucked out of the air. Rather than stay locked in this mode, Little's improvisation roams further afield and finds a more peaceful resolution.

This is what I love so much about [un] plugged - the fluidity of the playing matches the elasticity of the pieces. Songs develop and find themselves far from where they began, but the transitions flow smoothly.

On repetition is a form of change, the song begins with a classical guitar style approach, but a simple line becomes a set of looped arpeggios that create a more staccato accompaniment. Parts are added, evolving the progression into an ambient loop. Little's frequency shifted bass flits in and out like a darting bird. The song ends with a more crystalline structure.

Looping aficionados can analyze and appreciate Little's skill, but his evocative instrumental music transcends the technology. Listen to [un] plugged below, then drop by Bandcamp where you can name your price for the download (₤5 or more).


  1. Thanks for highlighting this record, Jester! Cool stuff. Being a bass player myself, the idea of making an album from looping is an interesting concept, and I've seen some big names do it before. However, it was the fact that this was done with an acoustic bass that really caught my attention....my favorite bass to play is my acoustic Dean, and I think it really gives a presence and tone that you just don't often hear. Kudos to Simon Little for this amazing and creative work!

  2. Definitely check Simon Little out, he's an impressive player.

    Thanks for dropping by!