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Album Review: Rich Brown’s Between Heaviness & Here

Toronto bassist and composer Rich Brown wears many musical hats. Brown is known for his widely varied studio work as well as his playing in the group Gamak and the modern jazz band he leads, rinsethealgorithm, has released a solo bass record, Between Heaviness & Here.

rich brown between heaviness and here album coverBetween Heaviness & Here as a total listen showcases Brown’s some of brown’s most consistent musical ideas: deep grooves, mercurial atmospheres, soaring hooks that nab the listener’s attention and don’t let go. For the bass player looking to learn from some of the instrument’s best player’s music, Brown’s Between Heaviness & Here is certainly a collection of songs worth investigating.

As a whole piece at first glance, the first thing that surprised me was the duration of the album. The album only clocks in at just over 30 minutes of music and 7 songs. Having just come off reviewing Josh Cohen’s monstrous debut solo album, to hear a collection of songs so condensed and to the point was a stark contrast.

Brown’s first solo album showcases two very distinct strengths of his: building a musical atmosphere and using soaring, lyrical hooks. The second track, ‘Twice’ is the album’s first example of both of these ideas coming together. ‘Borealis’ and ‘Beacon’ are the other two stand-out examples. On ‘Twice’, the harmony underneath Brown’s melody is (surprisingly) simple and (surprisingly) effective. The entire length of the song uses just two harmonics alternating back and forth. During the listen, I was very surprised to find that the that this was all that was needed to establish the mysterious atmosphere of this song and that there was a lot of deep, expressive feeling ahead. Brown’s lead melody sounds like it’s coming in and out of focus with quieter notes quickly accelerating to the musical forefront like a runner transitioning from a short walk to a full sprint and back to a restful walk. Your attention is immediately grabbed and held for those few notes that truly make the song.

‘Borealis’ is the jewel of Between Heaviness & Here. All of Brown’s strengths come together for this single track and truly make it one of the stand out compositions. The atmosphere is wonderfully dark and ominous and sets the perfect stage to wonder what is coming next. And what does come next does not disappoint. Wailing and tortured best describe Brown’s lead line to ‘Borealis’. The 6 minute and 47 second track flies by as Brown spaces his lead line in such a way as to keep the listener wanting more. The lead will come in and then fade back out just as the the line peaks in few-note bursts without ever giving the listener too much to hold on to at a given time.

After ‘Twice’ comes ‘Kofi’, a track that from the first few notes in the listener can tell that something is different. Unlike ‘Lua’, the album’s opening track, and ‘Twice’ which captured a dark, expressive emotion with a few layered sounds and a soulful hook, ‘Kofi’ hits the listener with something a little more upbeat and inspired. The song’s bouncy upbeat flavor conjures images of earthtones, woodiness and something organic, again, a stark contrast from the dark, quasi-tortured sounds of the first two tracks.

When Brown uses looping to craft harmonies into his songs, less is certainly more. ‘Twice’ was the first example of how just 2 harmonics were enough to telegraph to the listener the feel of this song. For ‘Love Theme for Nata’, a rearrangement of the Ennio Morricone composition for the film, Cinema Paradiso, the addition of a single upright bass riff playing on loop in the background was enough to capture the essence of Morricone’s original composition for violin and small orchestra.

The album’s final track, ‘The Traveller – Home – Away’, is a single 6 minute 25 second long piece, but essentially made up of two distinct 3-minute parts. The first part is Brown setting the foundation with a arpeggiated chord before unleashing another wistful, winding lead on top of it. Brown’s lead here, like on ‘Borealis’, feels very ethereal and free transitioning in in and out of the listener’s focus without ever staying too long or feeling stale.

The second part of this song feels like a reprise of the ideas and sounds that made up ‘Kofi’. Brown’s composition is made up of muted notes and recaptures that upbeat, earthy tone and color from ‘Kofi’.

As a collective piece of music, Between Heaviness & Here is not without its shortcomings. The first is the same as I addressed in my review of Out of the Bassment. Song to song, there is a ‘sameness’ that arises, a quality that makes it very hard to distinguish one song from another musically. Each song, though beautifully composed, doesn’t really feel or sound unique from the one that came before it or from the one that comes after it. ‘Kofi’ and the second part of ‘The Traveller’ use a similar style of muting and do so in a similar key and wind up creating a similar listening experience.

The conclusion to Between Heaviness & Here , the final few seconds of the album, was underwhelming and left me scratching my head wondering was that it? The album ends on a sudden, quiet note and on a musical idea feels like it’s been explored already earlier in the album with ‘Kofi’. An album as beautifully composed as this with rich sonic depth seems like it petered out just as the homestretch appears in sight.

All that being said, Brown is certainly a heck of a bass player and composer who put together a wonderful set of songs. For bass players looking for a lesson in soundscaping and solo phrasing, Brown’s Between Heaviness & Here is something worth adding to your music collection.

Listen to Between Heaviness & Here on Amazon and iTunes.