29 June 2010

CD Review: Julie Slick - Julie Slick (independant release, 2010)

Bassist Julie Slick has made quite a name for herself in a few short years. Fresh out of the Paul Green School of Rock, she and her brother Eric were tapped as the rhythm section for a new rock trio put together by some guy who claimed to have played with Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads and King Crimson…Adrian Belew, I think his name is. The AB Power Trio toured and recorded to acclaim from the community, infusing Belew’s eclectic playing with powerhouse rhythms and grooves, and showing that these siblings were a fantastic and telepathic playing duo.

Julie has spent the last several months in Slick Sounds Studios putting the finishing touches on her debut solo release, appropriately titled Julie Slick. It’s a 14 track opus that covers a lot of ground musically, from full on rock to jazz to ambience to electronica to places that rest between various combinations of the above. Eclectic and diverse, it works well as a showcase for her prodigious bass playing skills, and shows a songwriter willing to subsume their ego to craft pieces for other musicians to shine upon as well.

I’ve spent the past few days, in and around listening to my recent NEARfest purchases, listening to and absorbing this release; it really does have that much to offer. I am enamoured of Julie’s bass playing…she can go from heavy, pounding, pulsing rock playing to lighter, fluid lyrical lines at the drop of a hat. Her tone is never weak; at the same time, she is never the dominant musical voice on any of the tracks. By that I mean that she is never mixed such that her playing becomes so dominant that it drowns out any other musician on the track. You might think that’s a negative on an album written by, produced by, and featuring the name of a bassist on the cover, but for me it’s a strength. For me, it shows a musician who wants to be recognised as much for the pieces she brings to the table as for her playing. I won’t say anyone can play bass (I am Exhibit A for the prosecution there; as much as I love playing bass, I’m a one strong at a time bassist), but it takes a different, and more elusive, set of skills to bring strong compositions to the table.

I’m particularly enamoured of a few tracks in particular. Julie opens things off with the slightly heavy, jazzy ‘Mela,’ featuring a thicker than molasses on a cold day bass line, live drums from brother Eric, and dual guitars courtesy of Brian Davis and Matt Rothstein. In a nice twist, real sax is a focal point on this track, played by Jon Braun. The guitar leads have a lovely hive of bees sound, the sax skronks along nicely, and the song moves and grooves with authority and panache. Eric’s drumming skitters nicely all over the place, shifting time and tempo with ease, and as a statement of where the album is going to go, ‘Mela’ is a strong one.

‘Aphrodite’ offers up a different pair of musicians, this time with a bit of reputation behind them. Replacing Eric on the skins (actually, knowing this drummer, probably a mix of acoustic traps and a bunch of triggers and buttons) is King Crimson drummer extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto. Also featured is Andre Cholmondeley, who has worked with Eric Slick in Project/Object among other projects. Andre contributes guitar, listed in the credits as acoustic, but thankfully Julie’s liner notes add that he’s playing a VG-99 guitar, which is one of Roland’s modelling guitars. This explains the more processed, effected sound of his instrument, and it fits the more electronic feel of this piece well.

‘Choke’ is an incredibly eerie piece of music, with heavily processed, looped vocals, pulsing bass, and an orchestral bed that is built off Robert Fripp’s soundscape ‘Scanning II.’ This is one of several collaborations between Fripp and Slick, as his soundscapes are also featured on ‘Shadow Trip’ (one of my other huge favourites on the album) and ‘Spice Trade,’ which opens with a slower, more elegiac feel before shifting gears into a far more faux-industrial direction, replete with sampled violin tones soaring above the din. These types of shifts are not uncommon on this release, and while the songs are generally shorter in general, these shifts do a great job of ensuring that this instrumental album retains its freshness throughout. Thankfully the shifts do feel natural, not arbitrarily scattered about just for the fun of it.

I know I’ve only mentioned a few tracks here, but among any number of reasons for doing so, the truest one is this; I want to whet your appetite. I want to entice you, enthuse you, make you want to discover the other gifts this album has to offer. If you loved Julie Slick’s playing with the ABPT, you know what you’re getting into, but you have no idea how far the rabbit hole is going to go down. And I won’t tell you…but I will enjoy it as you discover it for yourself.

Check it out…it’s well worth the purchase!

1 – “Mela”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – drums; Brian Davis – guitar; Matt Rothstein – guitar; Jon Braun – sax
2 – “Many Laughs”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Marco Minnemann – drums
3 – “February”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, piano, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – piano, percussion arrangement and sequencing
4 – “Mora”
: J.S. – bass, voice, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Michael Bernier – Chapman Stick
5 – “Aphrodite"
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Pat Mastelotto – drums; AndrĂ© Cholmondeley – VG-99 acoustic
6 – “Baron Aloha”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat
7 – “Nothing to Be Done”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Michael Bernier – Chapman stick
8 – “Choke”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Scanning II”
9 – “Awoke”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Alex Schmidt – guitar
10 – “Shadow Trip”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Sometimes God Hides”
11 – “Spice Trade”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Sometimes God Hides” and “2006″
12 – “The Rivalry”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – VB-99 guitar; Pat Mastelotto – drums
13 – “Cage Match”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar/organ, synths, Ultrabeat
14 – “Blood Blisters”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, piano, Ultrabeat; Jordan del Rosario – slide guitar

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