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Sam Bevan: The Fine Line

Matt Merewitz By

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If anything, Bay Area bassist Sam Bevan's debut instrumental album is appropriate for cold Sunday afternoons and rainy weekdays at work. Funk lite here, ambient guitar there... perhaps a brief swinging passage. For better or worse, the ever-so-familiar distorted guitar echoes are the foundation of The Fine Line, reflecting the unmistakable influence of Bill Frisell. Not surprising from a twenty-something jazz bassist. It seems this is the soundtrack of today's educated jazz musician. Very composed forms interspersed with a shuffle number (here called "Slap in the Face ) and maybe one or two that try to swing, but really don't. Don't get me wrong. It can work. It just doesn't.

Bevan's effort is commendable, however, if it's pastiche he's after. "Zap Monk and "Shapeshifter could fit right in on a Dave Douglas album. In fact, they feel like they are intended as addenda to the trumpeter's 2004 release Strange Liberation. On "Attack of the Mudbugs, Bevan et al. go jam band—complete with Bevan playing his requisite "space bass. Think Galactic, or Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey back when they had horns.

Ara Anderson's would-be idiosyncratic trumpet style is entirely dependent on Douglas for inspiration, as is guitarist Mike Abraham's on Frisell. And while it's inspiring to hear Mike Rinta play discernable eighth-note lines on a trombone, his unwillingness or inability to get down-and-dirty with the funk is his ultimate downfall. To his credit, Bevan is very good as a bassist. But he barely gives himself a chance to shine, relying instead on the guitarist to bring out what should be his concept. Perhaps this is the unfortunate result of being a bass-playing leader.

It basically all boils down to a cookie cutter-like approach to constructing the archetypal "modern jazz album. Even if Bevan & Co. claim not to be influenced by guys like Frisell and Douglas, their group sound unknowingly plays out the last fifteen years of experimentation by these two veterans of the so-called "downtown scene.


Track Listing: Zap Monk; Walking Stick; Shapeshifter; Attack of the Mudbugs; Bayou Melodie; Ennui; Merman Interlude; Slap in the Face; Swashbucket; Disgruntled Patriot.

Personnel: Sam Bevan: acoustic and electric bass; Bryan Bowman: drums; Mike Abraham: guitar; Ara Anderson: trumpet; Mike Rinta: trombone.

Title: The Fine Line | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Self Produced


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