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The Rhys Anslow Project: Baby Steps

img  Tobias Fischer

Baby Steps, the debut album by electric bassist Rhys Anslow, was released as a sort of collaboration with his friends and fanbase. Every other week for ten weeks, Anslow demoed a new song on his blog, as well as a written description of what inspired the piece and how it was recorded. He then invited listeners to post comments about the music, and offer recommendations as to how it might be improved. The end result, in the bassist’s own words, is a collection of “10 instrumental tracks woven off real life experiences, raw emotion and personal thoughts.”

More concretely, Baby Steps consists mostly of song fragments and chord progressions that act as a vehicle for extended, groove-based improvisations. With the exception of a few drum machine touches, the recording is constructed entirely of electric bass loops. The first track, “Night on Wine Street,” is a contrapuntal layering of fretless bass ostinati that falls partway between Jaco Pastorius’ sleek, smoothed-over funk and Victor Wooten’s string-slapping pyrotechnics. “Two Minutes Hate” is a slow, smooth-jazz number with a faint Spanish flair. Again, the composition is essentially a looped chord sequence over which Anslow layers multiple improvisational lines in order to carry on a pensive musical conversation with himself.

Baby Steps’ most effective moments occur when Anslow steps away from the safety of his loop pedal. “Epitaph” is a dizzying slap-funk display that gradually disintegrates into chiming harmonics and slippery double-stop lines. “Thank You,” the album’s sole live cut, is a pensive vamp that offers a glimpse of the bass player’s “sensitive” side.  The piece is a refreshing respite from the album’s more-is-more approach, and one of the few moments on Baby Steps where Anslow seems to be really playing for himself as opposed to delivering chops-heavy exercises.

Throughout, Baby Steps functions as a showcase for Rhys Anslow’s instrumental virtuosity.  From Flea-esque funk slapping to Flamenco-twinged soloing and buoyant polyrhythms, Anslow is certainly a monster player. Taken as a final product Baby Steps may occasionally lack both compelling emotional charge and a sense of direction, leaving the listener with an impressive one-man jam session, but little else. But taken as a demo to be fleshed out and improved upon (which seems to have been Anslow’s intent all along), you’re left with a collection of tracks that leave little doubt of this guy’s potential.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Rhys Anslow

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