Review: Hide and Seek by Adam Ben Ezra — the bass as an instrument of emphasis

Since the beginning of his ascent to internet stardom, double-bass phenom Adam Ben Ezra has been on a stated mission to bring the instrument to the forefront. Over the years, he has meticulously crafted a musical identity founded on his innovative techniques and the creative breadth of his unique performances, which have garnered him a reputation as a “one-man band”.

Recorded with his trio (Adam Ben Amitai on guitar and Gilad Dobrecky on percussion), Adam’s debut album, Can’t Stop Running, established him as a brilliant composer with an instantly recognizable sound. But it was his solo album, Pin Drop, that truly revealed his unique relationship with the upright bass.

“In solo, it’s very easy to express all of my abilities on the bass,” Adam told me in an interview we did during his world tour to promote Pin Drop. “I like the magic of it — of one person who makes a lot of noise, lots of sounds. It’s a music show, but there is also an element of juggling and magic. I think it’s very unique and original.”

In the same conversation, the Tel Aviv-based multi-instrumentalist mentioned that he was already working on a new album, wherein he wanted to further incorporate the electronic elements he was increasingly including in his live performances. Towards that end, he partnered with renowned New York-based Israeli producer Isaac DaBom (Omer Mor), whose influence is immediately noticeable on Adam’s third album, Hide and Seek.

Perhaps his most ambitious work to date, Hide and Seek focuses on exploring the different facets of Adam’s musical language in a format that introduces elements of hip hop, R&B and electronic music.

The record starts with the gritty “Downtown Blues”, whose bass-line would not have been out of place in a Michael Jackson tune. Out of all the tracks, it’s perhaps the most reminiscent of Adam’s previous work, serving to establish a common thread that positions Hide and Seek as the third part in a veritable study on the expressive potential of the bass in different contexts.

After this reintroduction, “Chasing the Rabbit” fully embraces the new aesthetic. With a Middle Eastern piano melody and a splendid oud solo over a catchy beat, the song shifts the focus away from the bass as the instrument of prominence. No longer omnipresent, Adam’s signature instrument is henceforth used as a tool for emphasis, allowing space for other facets of the artist’s musicianship to manifest. 

A welcome element throughout is the increased reliance on Adam’s voice, which informs some of the most memorable tunes like “Tumbada” and “Mamaja”, wherein the transcendental nature of Adam’s evocative vocals perfectly compliments the raw, fleshly quality of the bass.

Reminiscent of “Can’t Stop Running” — a song that has become his calling card — and every bit as enchanting, the album’s title track captures the essence of what makes Adam’s sound so unique, namely that “element of juggling and magic” that defines his artistic persona. This persona is not as immediately discernible here as it was in his previous albums,  which makes its highlighted presence in certain moments all the more relevant.

If his previous work felt like a character study, this third album truly comes off like a game of hide and seek, as the listener pursues the aforementioned “character” throughout a new sonic environment. This environment is shaped in great part by the producer, whose influence on the album’s aesthetic is so profound one could say this is almost a duo record. While that greatly enriches the spectrum of sound, it does come at the expense of that intimate, idiosyncratic quality that became the identifying factor of Adam’s performances.

The perfect example is “Daldaya”, an extremely catchy vocal track that seems destined for mainstream appeal but bears little of Adam’s signature sound. Similarly, the subdued “Walking Song”, though enjoyable, is so simple and straightforward it almost feels like an interlude rather than a full track.

In contrast, “Fair Fight” and “The Missing Piece” combine these aesthetic elements almost to perfection. In the latter, a soft, haunting piano melody creates anticipation for a splendid bass solo that provides one of the album’s highlights and announces the conclusion of this musical game of hide and seek.

The relatively stripped-down closing track, “Sunny Shades”, brings the story full-circle, essentially picking up where “Downtown Blues” left off, as we are reintroduced to the familiar incarnation of the musician’s sound. The track itself is not as strong as some of its predecessors but, alongside “Downtown Blues”, it serves to offer the album a coherent framework.

All in all, Hide and Seek is a gripping, beautifully ornamented album that works especially well within the greater context of the artist’s creative development, continuing the fascinating journey of one of the most unique talents on the present music scene.

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