More often than not, bass players tend to be overshadowed by the singer or the lead guitarist in the band. Occasionally however, the bass guitar gets to grab a share of the limelight, and Simon Sammut’s recent album BaSSic Attitude does exactly that. Serving up a journey into the world of smooth jazz spread over eight tracks, it provides a most welcome chill-out vibe and is another milestone in a musical journey that began the day a very young Sammut started to take piano lessons. “I was born into a musical family,” says Sammut, the son of composer and conductor Joseph Sammut, as he recalls his earliest musical memories. “I started to study the piano when I was quite young, but by the time I was about 12 I packed it in because I absolutely wasn’t enjoying it.”
Instead, his father asked if he would like to have a go at learning the bass guitar. “I remember always being drawn to the lower frequen-cies when I listened to music. I’d even get closer to the speakers so I could feel the air the bass notes pushed out of them.” Sammut borrowed a bass guitar from a friend. “I suppose after my piano experience, dad wanted to make sure I wouldn’t ditch the bass guitar too,” he laughs. He needn’t have worried, because Sammut threw himself completely into learning the instrument. “I had found my true calling, and I was literally studying and practising eight hours a day,” he recalls, going on to name legendary bass players such as Jaco Pastorius and Jeff Berlin among his first influences. “I was also into rock… bands like AC/DC and Iron Maiden, obviously paying particular attention to their bass players.”
At 14, Sammut joined his first rock band; essentially a group of friends who had all picked up different instruments and decided to form a unit they called Hangover. The rehearsals weren’t appreciated by everyone however, and after a number of complaints by the neighbours, the band decided to move into the Rokarja music community inside the former British Army barracks in Tigné. “Moving to Tigné was a good move for us on many levels. We got to know many other bands, through which we also got a deeper insight into rock.” More than that, it also established them among the regulars on the local rock scene. “When our drummer decided to go abroad to study, we tried different drummers, but the chemistry just wasn’t the same, so we decided to stop.”
Without a band, Sammut sought to quench his passion for music elsewhere. “I played with other rock bands for a while but got offered a job playing the entertainment circuit, which meant I started to get into pop, funk and other genres,” he continues, adding that around that time he had also become interested in British bassist Mark King’s style, which was integral to Level 42’s successful blend of funk, rock and jazz in the 1980s. “It was all part of my musical development,” he says of his eventual incursion into the world of jazz. “Jazz has many sub-genres; I embraced the endless opportunities it gave me to explore and evolve as a bass player. Of course, what I had learnt from my rock roots also came in handy.”
Asked about any favourite moments throughout his career, Sammut is quick to mention three in particular. “Most definitely, my time with Hangover is something I will never forget, and I hope we manage to sort out a reunion at some point. I will never forget those gigs at the chapel in Tigné,” he reminisces. “My involvement in several events at a national level, like Rockestra for example, are also very special to me, as is the experience of playing in Michael Bolton’s band when he performed here. Standing onstage and playing in front of 12,000 people is an incredible feeling.”
A particularly special moment was the release of his first solo album a few months ago. An instrumental album, BaSSic Attitude, has received encouraging reviews from foreign critics, as much for its warm feel as for its broad appeal and musicianship. Applying a hint of wordplay, the title has more than one meaning. The double ‘S’ is there for two reasons – it defines the word ‘bass’ in the title and they are also my initials. More than that however, it is inspired by Sammut’s strong bond with the bass guitar. “The idea was to come up with a record in which the bass guitar is the lead instrument. It is in the background way too often, so I wanted to give it the attention it truly deserves.”
The recording of the album started last April, but the idea had been on Sammut’s mind long before that. “I was lucky enough to meet Alexander Kuzmin who, apart from being a talented bass player is also a multi-instrumentalist and a sound engineer. In his capacity as a bass player, Alex could relate more effectively to what I had in mind.” Kuzmin’s insight was also valuable from a technical aspect. Further to being involved in the album’s technical aspect, Kuzmin also penned three of its eight tracks. “That wasn’t planned, but while working on the arrangements for the tracks, Alex asked if I was interested in hearing some of his work.” Sammut picked three because he “felt some of Alex’s tracks fit snugly into the album’s feelgood jazz factor”.
With one complete and released album now in hand, Sammut says he is considering the many requests he has received to take the music on BaSSic Attitude into a live setting. “I’m looking into it, but there are various aspects to consider, so it might take some time to materialise”. With several tracks left over from this album’s sessions, Sammut doesn’t rule out a sequel, but not just yet. “The thought is definitely on my mind, but this year I’m going to be very busy working with several other musicians on various projects, some of which may also involve recording, so who knows?”
BaSSic Attitude is available on iTunes and at CDbaby.com or by contacting the artist directly on Facebook..
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (22 January, 2012)