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Album Review

After a decade or so of being "bassboy for hire," seemingly content playing other people's music, Bryan Beller decided the time was right for making some music of his own. View is his first travel down that road. It's an album of solid rock instrumentals (a couple tunes have vocals), broken up by several solo bass pieces. Beller's got chops to spare, but also shows taste and restraint in his playing, along with some fine compositions.

View starts with the very pretty "Bear Divide," scored for an electric and an acoustic bass, then moves into a killer groove with "Seven Percent Grade," featuring Mike Keneally on piano and Rick Musallam on guitar (Beller's bandmates in the Mike Keneally Band). Then it's time for Keneally's turn on guitar with "Supermarket People," with Jeff Babko on Hammond organ, followed by the slightly ominous "Elate," for solo bass. Beller was wise to limit Keneally's involvement (lest anyone doubt this is Bryan's baby), and just as wise to feature Rick Musallam and Griff Peters on guitars, because they sound great on these tunes.

As a composer, Beller shows a pretty broad range, and an affinity for some genuinely sick tones (check Musallam on "Seven Percent Grade," or Keneally on "See You Next Tuesday"). Although all the songs are clearly composed, some are more of a groove, allowing the guitarists plenty of room to strut. "Projectile" is a fairly brief rocker with a great distorted vocal that builds to a frenetic conclusion. Each of the solo bass pieces evokes a different mood, with Beller showing what a great musician he is (there's a lot more to it than just technique). His treatment of John Pattitucci's "Backwoods" is especially nice. Perhaps the most surprising pieces are "Eighteen Weeks," with its wonderful use of a string trio and vibes, and the beautiful title cut, "View," both of which really demonstrate the depth of Beller's composing ability. The only mis-step on the album is "Bite," a pretty generic rocker, and the only other tune Beller didn't write himself. Given Beller's abilities and background, this could have all too easily become a bass showcase, or a guitar shredder album. There is some monster playing on the album to be sure, and fans of those camps will not be disappointed with View, but thanks to his musical sense and savvy, the album goes way beyond that. Those familiar with him already knew Bryan Beller was a great bass player; View shows him to be a fine composer, and an excellent producer as well. This is a strong first effort.

Customer Reviews

A ReView of View

"A Bassist's solo debut" - The sentence that drives fear into the hearts of musicians worldwide, and boredom into music consumers universally. You see, in the realm of progressive/technical rock, the vast majority of "solo bass" recordings are simply an excuse for frustrated guitarists to showcase their ability to play Flea inspired slappity-slap white boy funk, Billy Sheenan-esque tapping runs, or Jaco fretless fills at 200 beats-per-minute. Hell, I'm a bassist who listens to a great deal of music in this genre, and apart from Tony Levin's catalog I can't think of a single bassist that had produced an album's worth of material that can be consumed in one sitting... Make that two, because Bryan Beller has changed the notion of a solo album by a member of the traditional rhythm section with his new release, View. Unlike the vast majority of (mostly, in this case) instrumental albums (and these days most albums period), View is less a collection of individual songs and more a gathering of interlocking pieces along the same theme. Much on the same level as Pink Floyd's The Wall, or Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, View is a loose concept, one Beller has described as a collection of "alone on a dusty highway" songs. He succeeds greatly in this regard, as all of the songs flow together with ease. The only jarring moments are the ones planned in advance. The CD starts off with one of three pieces featuring an acoustic bass guitar, "Bear Divide", which sets the outdoors vibe perfectly. You can just imagine a dusty artist playing this by a campfire in the western desert, alone except for the thoughts expressed by music. The tone of Beller's Taylor acoustic bass shines on this track as well as the others, not sounding like the pale imitation of an upright bass but as a true "bass guitar". Most players are hardpressed to play chords on bass without them sounding like mud - Beller chooses his intervals wisely, and it shows in the clarity of the music. "Seven Percent Grade" follows, showing off the interplay of guitarist Rick Musallam and Mike Keneally on piano, with Beller not simply holding but flying over the low end, mid-range and high end - all without losing the cohesiveness that bass brings to music. Drummer Joe Travers manages to keep things in lockstep, a task I do not envy. "Supermarket People" is a bit of a conundrum: Is it jazz?... well, it's jazzy. The blues? Elements of, yes. Funk? Most definitely funky, but certainly not slap-funk. Gospel? Owing to Jeff Babko's monster Hammond organ riffs, it could be thought of. One thing's for certain - it's a monster piece that grooves, featuring self-proclaimed "I dislike soloing" bassist Beller who manages to pull what most bassists strive for - complexity with melody. The distortion-heavy piece "Elate" is next, fading in bass chords like modern day Bach and setting up "Get Things Done", a pure driving song if ever I'd heard one. This screams to be blasted from a convertible with the top down on a stretch of open road... with a finger-blistering solo by Beller. Fingerstyle and chords flow together with a bebop-like structure. I'll take this moment to say, "Beller, stop telling us you can't solo. You're doing a damn fine job of it here." "Bite", the album's first song featuring vocals and most certainly the most traditional "rock song". It's distinguished by tandem rhythm/lead bass by former Duran Duran bassist Wes Wehmiller and Beller, cut-to-the-bone lyrics, and the vocals of Colin Keenan. Heavy in a Stone Temple Pilots fashion, it's down and dirty on the floor and proud of it. "Eighteen Weeks" can be called the epic of the album. The addition of vibes, keyboards, multiple tracks of electric and acoustic bass, and a string trio give this track a sense of ambitiousness without becoming overblown. In other words, it never quite crosses the line into "prog", owing to the strength of the melodies and the arraignment and not the number of notes it contains. Ambitious progsters would do well to take a note from Beller's playbook. Beller's first stab at vocals follow on "Projectile", and it's a sledgehammer to the frontal lobes in classic industrial fashion with distorted vocals and rip-'n'slash guitars by Seattle's Yogi. Short, not quite sweet, and to the point. "Wildflower" starts off with a plaintive piano figure that would fit one of Trent Reznor's quieter pieces from his deconstructionist CD Still and straddles the border between that and a Tori Amos ballad quite nicely (guitarist Rick Musallam 's wah-inflected playing shades the track with a vibe borrowed from longtime Tori guitarist Steve Caton). Again, vocals by Beller, but this time they're upfront and uncovered. Folks, he's a singer as well. A good one. "No" is the last solo bass piece, and possible the most technical of the trio. It still manages to be memorable and not a NAMM show riff-o-rama, thanks to its recurrent walking line/chordal interplay punctuated by harmonics and lead lines. "See You Next Tuesday" (no, it's not meant to be alluding to that) is a fusion stomp by the mid-nineties classic "Beer For Dolphins" line of Beller, Keneally and Toss Panos on drums. Think you know the capabilities of your respective instrument? Give this a play and join me in the woodshed. The album closer is also the title track, and wonderful chance to reflect on what's come before it, with a pensive piano track and lead guitar courtesy of Griff Peters. Given the variations on mood and sonics though the previous hour, it's much needed. Can any album be perfect? I doubt it, as perfection varies greatly from person to person. View, however, is bound to contain a song, a mood, a lyric that will undoubtedly strike a chord with just about anyone that comes in contact with it. I'd never suggest that you "steal this album". It's unethical, immoral, and besides - it's only available online... however, feel free to steal the money to purchase this album.

Biography

Born: 1971

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

After graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1993, Bryan Beller's first big gig was with Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa's band Z, which is where he first met Mike Keneally. In 1996, after two albums and a tour, Keneally decided to leave Z for a solo career and Beller decided to stick with Keneally, beginning a musical partnership that's now lasted more than ten years over the course of seven albums and countless tours. During his time in Los Angeles, Beller also played and/or recorded with Wayne Kramer...
Full Bio