On his second album of original material, Karl Clews continues where his debut 'Dissident' left off, venturing ever deeper into the uncharted territories of solo bass and bass-led compositions. This time around, his reach is wider, ranging from the melancholic jazz waltz of 'Like Tears In Rain', through the angular proto hip-hop of 'Chromatica' to the adrenaline-fuelled jazz-funk of 'Rainmaker', and taking us on side trips through Brazil and Africa in world music influenced tracks such as 'Milagre' and 'Le Zoulou Blanc'. And his palette is more varied as, alongside his distinctive Bogart bass tone, we hear him taking out the piccolo bass and a tenor bass, often accompanied by the mercurial soprano saxophone of regular collaborator Bertrand Huvé, even bringing in a full horn section for one song, and with envigorating contributions from Ciaran Storey on guitar and Richie Dittrich on drums.
From Karl: As a child, I studied the classical guitar, but in my teens I picked up the bass and I've been a professional bass player for over 20 years, as a sideman, session player and touring bassist with countless artists, both local and international, some well-known, some not. However, while I love the physicality of the bass, what I missed from my days of playing the classical guitar was the ability to sit down alone with an instrument and play a piece of music that sounded 'complete'.
The bass is traditionally perceived as a monophonic, accompanying instrument, and as such is generally heard in an ensemble setting where a vocal and/or some other instrument(s) provide the harmonies and melodies to complete the sound. But the bass guitar has come a long way, technologically and in terms of technique, since it was first designed, and it's no longer limited to a supporting role. So I started experimenting with a classical-guitar style technique on the bass to create arrangements in which I was playing not just the bassline, but also the melody and harmony all at the same time, and I would upload these 'solo bass arrangements' of popular songs and movie themes to YouTube, just so I had a visual and audio record of them if I ever wanted to play them again, since I don't enjoy writing these things out. However, it wasn't long before other people started liking and sharing these videos, and I soon discovered that there was an audience out there for this kind of thing, despite the general perception, especially among fellow musicians, that 'that's not how you play the bass'.
Over the years, amongst the covers of other artists' material, inspired by such pioneers of the bass as Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten and Jaco Pastorius, I would also regularly upload my own compositions, written specifically to showcase the bass as a lead instrument, and early in 2020 I released my first album of bass-led original pieces, 'Dissident', so named as a reaction against those who insisted I was playing the bass 'wrong'. The intention was always to tour that album to promote it but, of course, the pandemic put paid to that, so I simply went straight back into the studio to start work on the follow-up, 'Navigator', released on 2 April this year.
As the title suggests, this album sees me exploring further the concept of the bass as a solo and lead instrument, with more expansive compositions drawing on a wider range of influences, from African to South American styles, from jazz, funk and fusion to hip-hop, and a wider tonal and textural palette, incorporating piccolo- and tenor basses. With the exception of guest spots on a handful of tracks by Galway musicians Bertrand Huvé and Adam Daniel on sax, Ciaran Storey on guitar and Richie Dittrich on drums, all the sounds on the album are made by basses, and it provides a demonstration of just how versatile - and misunderstood - the modern electric bass can be.
'Navigator' is available from www.karlclewsbass.bandcamp.com, and from all the usual download and streaming outlets, with a limited edition run of physical CDs becoming available in May.