Jeffrey Roden: Seeds of Happiness Part 1
The Big Tree Music

Given the purity of its presentation, Jeffrey Roden's The Seeds of Happiness Part One might be seen as the culmination of multiple decades of music-making. In the ‘90s, the California-based Roden turned towards composing music for solo electric bass, twelve results of which are presented on the fourth release issued on his own Big Tree Music imprint (also available is a two-part New Albion set which includes twenty-six pieces recorded over two separate days). Using nothing more than his 1961 Fender Precision Bass and an Ampeg Rocket Bass amp, Roden played every note live (on January 27, 2005) and subsequently overdubbed background tracks sans loops or other devices.

There's much to applaud here. First of all, the release isn't about pyrotechnics, despite the fact that there's ample evidence of his technical command; the pieces are instead all in the two- to three-minute range, indicating that Roden's focus is on communicating a given piece's essence succinctly; furthermore, the twelve pieces are rooted in melodic themes as opposed to wayward soloing. The pace is measured and unhurried, the mood ruminative, and, in those moments when a ‘lead' bass solos over a background, every note is meaningfully connected to the thematic essence of the piece. The material is by turns solemn, stately, meditative, and, though voiced by a single instrument, varied. Roden's use of silence deserves mention, too, something heard to strong effect in “Clouds like Choirs,” for instance, where the rumbling sustain of the bass vanishes into the pauses that breathe through the material. Though I've not heard the New Albion release, I can't help but wonder if The Seeds of Happiness Part One might not be the more preferable of the two, despite being much shorter, simply because its thirty-three minute length seems like the perfect amount for a recording of this type.

September 2007