Stuart Hamm: Outbound
Bassist Stu Hamm's credits include several stints supporting flashy guitarists Steve Vai and Joe Satriani with his equally flashy tapping bass chops back in the late 80s. More recently, Hamm appeared in a project band trio with Frank Gambale and Steve Smith on two instrumental, chop-laden fusion records from the Tone Center label, where the trio wrote clever, aggressive modern fusion. Outbound shows a collection of songs written by Hamm around the turn of the year 2000, and the liner notes explain his urban inspirations and thoughts on the music.
Hamm's bass skills shine on Outbound, as expected, over stiff drumming from Steve Smith on two tracks, and even more stiff electronic drum programming by a duo called Youth Engine, who provides "grooves" and "grooves and vibe" to the other tracks in the form of synths and electronic drums. These textures sound unusual behind Hamm's bass, but they reflect the urban inspirations described in his notes.
As with many solo records, Hamm follows his muse wherever it leads him, as explained in the liner notes, even though it may not produce the most coherent album. The songs on Outbound often wander through long bass leads or extended techno grooves, such as the bass solo laden ballad "The Tenacity of Genes and Dreams" and the bland "A Better World." The recording of "Star Spangled Banner," though immaculately played, seems out of place among the techno-laced urban reflections, and it is preceded by 60 seconds of studio doodling. The hauntingly beautiful "Charlotte's Song," written for Hamm's daughter, stands out as the most interesting of his reflective pieces, played by unaccompanied bass in a concise arrangement.
Outbound showcases a period in Hamm's life where he ponders his place in an urban lifestyle and his new young daughter. These reflections may have great meaning for Hamm, but they produce less engaging music than his recent trio work with Smith and Gambale.