Jeffrey Roden

The Seeds of Happiness

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Jeffrey Roden has been playing bass in a variety of settings since the 1970s, but in the early '90s he chose to "concentrate on composing music which explores and extends the boundaries of the electric bass as a solo instrument," and has recorded several albums in that mode on his own Big Tree label. His first album for the New Albion label, however, is something of a curiosity: the two-section, 26-movement suite that comprises the program is lovely, but it can hardly be said to extend the boundaries of the bass in any meaningful sense. All of the movements are pieces for solo electric bass, all ranging in length from one-and-a-half to just over four minutes; some of them feature a limited amount of overdubbing, but much of the music features little more than a single bass playing quiet, simple melodies at a slow tempo. Occasionally (note in particular "Revealed", from the end of Part One) they sound like slightly modified scale exercises being played slowly. In some cases there is a comical dislocation between the title of a piece and its sound -- there is absolutely nothing exultant, for example, about the languorous "Exultation". This is certainly very listenable music and there are moments of genuine beauty -- but there are also moments when one wonders if there's really anyone there, or whether all one is hearing is some skillful noodling by a talented musician. Recommended with reservations.

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