Ode to the unheralded bass player….
We see him on the side, usually stage left. He is a stoic figure most of the time, patiently keeping the pace while the rest of the band runs free, madmen released from the asylum. Oh occasionally you see a few characters, Chris Squire of Yes comes to mind, with his trademark leg kicks and dramatic power flourishes, but most of the time they just stay in the pocket, like John Myung or the late great John Entwistle, kicking ass and needing no glory for it. Every once in a while though, they will take to the front lines, and take the lead in composing an album. Alberto Rigoni’s Three Wise Monkeys comes to mind, and the results of that were out of this world. But the Rigoni album was a rock album, the subject of today’s review, Fethi Okutan, is a bass dominated album, with the humble instrument taking the limelight in all aspects.
Fethi Okutan is a native of Ankara, Turkey, and his musical interest was noted at a very early age when he would build guitars out of boxes. Noting this, and thankfully for the rest of us, his father bought him a bass. The rest is a somewhat familiar story of a musical genius on the rise, acclaimed performances at the high school and college level, a scholarship from Berklee College of Music, Bass guitar department, and then playing his part in a litany of bands, including Absent Without Leave, In Rock, Labrient, and Riskk. Upon the disbandment of Riskk, he recorded a solo album, which brings us to this review. While Fethi handles the bass, rhythm, and programming duties, he has acquired the help of some talented musicians on the album, including Gürkan Konanc, Aydın Aykutlu, Volkan Oktem, and Egemen Isık on drums, Ugur Karaman, and Emre Sangun on lead and rhythm guitar, Selçuk Ergen, and Vecdi Mayda on keys. Together they have made an album drawing from a wide variety of genres to do one thing above all else, to explore and celebrate the bass.
The album opens with Ehikeyif, which after a softer intro, goes straight into a hard funk rock vibe, a hell of a way to open a bass led album. Okutan’s skill is immediately shown, and is thick and palpable. This guy can play, period. He digs deep into the pocket of the bass and lets fly, but it’s not just the harder funk slaps that show, he has an ethereal control over all aspects of his instrument. His fellow musicians shine on their own as well, the drum fills are outstanding and the guitar work just bleeds soul. My first listen to this track was in a coffee house, and amidst all the mechanical people getting their morning drug to jumpstart the day, I was freely rocking out without a care, the true sign of a well played song.
The next track, Zehir Zemberek, is a seven minute monster with some seriously heavy progressive rock roots. Again, bass led with some solid accompanying guitar work, this one opens with the feel of a frantic run at breakneck speed. It settles down into a harrowing section where the lead guitar takes over; bending notes all over the place, then back to the sprint, until sliding into a dramatic, pounding climactic finish. Overall it’s a brilliant track.
The third track, Med Cezir, is a showcase of Okutan’s talent solo, and is nothing short of scary. Hard Rakkas is a thunderous track, bringing some serious chords and crashing moments to the album.Pabucu Yarim brings the funk back, with a jounty and playful track, titled after a Turkish sing song for kids, one that our own Lady Obscure played herself. Eflatun Sevgili is another bass only track, more subtle but no less stunning than the first. His versatility is so wide and varied with his chosen tool, and is shown so well in all the tracks here, but no more so that the album’s closer, İç Deniz. The atmospheric opening of keys and bass sets a perfect stage for the oncoming, and heart wrenching guitar work of Karaman, who along with Okutan really shines on this album. This song has an escalating effect to it, slowly adding and changing, becoming more than what it began with, building up to a stunning climax before slowly fading into the ether with the soft touches of Okutan on the bass and whispering keys in the back.
Between the skill, writing, and production values, Okutan’s album is a brilliant showcase of the bass’s role in a wide variety of genres and styles, and his skill, and that of his fellow musicians, pay honorable due respects to each and every one of them. By letting his own love for the instruments many aspects shine on the album, he honors those who came before him, and paves the way for many to follow.