Recorded live in Paris in 2007, this album showcases Tom Jenkinson’s talents with the electric bass in a manner that’s sure to divide opinion like nothing he’s previously released under the Squarepusher moniker.
Unlike the glitch-addled output most associate him with, this album’s organic qualities allow Jenkinson to literally feel his way through twelve arrangements, his finger work at times dazzling but never anything but indulgent – even when things slow to a gentle meander in the hands of another, the Essex-born musician fills every potential second of silence with some snap of a string or pluck where, perhaps, a momentary break in proceedings could freshen up what comes next.
As a live album, there are natural breaks – and the smatterings of applause between tracks (albeit not all of them, as many segue seamlessly into the next movement) represent the only sound other than Jenkinson’s bass on offer here – but while Solo Electric Bass 1 never punishes with volume, the lack of variety in depth or scope of sound doesn’t lend itself to a satisfying listen. What was almost certainly riveting when seen in the flesh is translated onto record as rather soulless, and so detached from the perceived norm of Squarepusher that it’s tough to imagine many casual fans being won over by this (one would assume temporary) shift in stylistic direction.
It could be argued that the recording quality doesn’t do the set justice, too – while it’s noted that Jenkinson performed with only a small amplifier, the mix is scratchy where the material deserves a certain level of cleanliness, the kind common with Warp electronica. But then this was never intended as a widely circulated release – strictly limited, it’s aimed at the hardcore without too much thought for those new to the artist in question. And that’s a good thing: anyone using this as their introduction to Squarepusher would suffer dangerous palpitations upon hearing something like 2001’s seminal Go Plastic.
Given that it’s a collectors-only offering, it’s wrong to be overly critical of a release that, really, delivers exactly what’s expected of it. This is Squarepusher, playing electric bass, solo. There’s nothing else involved. And for that purity it’s a commendable project, but one with all the repeat-play appeal of a minute of silence. --Mike Diver
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