Big as the Ocean
“Delicate and majestic beyond words, Big As The Ocean is an instrumental invocation of unspeakable beauty and indefinable emotions.”
– Michael Dwyer
Please “click and hold” to pause on each review below
PeopleSean Kelly, Josie Jason, Peter Jones, Cameron Goold, Karoiline Kuti, Attila Kuti, Gareth Skinner, Julitha Ryan, Craig Harnath, Phil Bywater
Delicate and majestic beyond words, Big As The Ocean is an instrumental invocation of unspeakable beauty and indefinable emotions.
As the album undulates from the tinkling glass delicacy of Amoeba to the saxophone catharsis of Chant; from the surging and booming rock of Flow to the shimmering acoustic finger-picking of Lovesong No. 7, it rides nuances of emotion as light as a wisp of horsehair on the title track, and as ominous as the deep, serpentine atmosphere of Laguna.
"To me they're little emotional vignettes, little pictures," Rosie says. "I always have words or thoughts or subtexts to what I'm writing but I relate naturally to instrumentals as language. It's what I grew up with. Instrumental music is normal to me and the bass is my voice. It's my lead vocal."
Like the ocean, Rosie's double bass has been swelling in the Australian subconscious for ages. It was her chugging bow that brought the Manly Ferry to Circular Quay in Australian Crawl's panoramic pop classic, Reckless. She lived in another world then, the classical world she first glimpsed over the wall of the Sydney Conservatorium when she was 11. She wore away her thumbnail en route to a guitar degree at Victoria's College of the Arts (her thesis was in baroque lute), and so made a fateful diversion to double bass.
Her journey from there is among the most remarkable untold stories of the Australian musical underground.
Rosie studied in California with legendary bassist Bertram Turetzky and played in orchestral, operatic and stage musical settings from Vienna back to Melbourne. There, she made the seemingly incongruous leap to booking rock bands at St Kilda's Espy Hotel.
"I just jumped ship," she says. "I'd come in from the high art world, went off and did rock'n'roll management and stage management. I'm a late bloomer."
She began to make up for lost time with Maurice Frawley's Working Class Ringos, then Charlie Marshall's Body Electric, Spencer Jones's Holy Spirits, then Blush with Astrid Munday, Clare Moore – and Penny Ikinger, with whom she found direction as a composer, in a bass/ guitar duo.
"There wasn't a double bass in every second rock band then, so I had open slather to create a niche," she says. "It's different to the electric bass. I felt like I was developing a new language for the double bass within a rock idiom."
Her vocabulary expanded in Mick Thomas's folk-rock band; with world music chanteuse Kavisha Mazella; and in Sean Kelly's jazz-rock odyssey of the late '90s, before finding its first full and acclaimed expression with Wave in 2003.
Inherently cinematic, several tracks from Wave found their way into films and TV and Rosie began to work more on soundtrack composition; she also began recording and touring the world with Mick Harvey of the Bad Seeds. But she was never far from the ocean.
"The concept I had for Big As The Ocean was for it to be both bigger and smaller than Wave," she says. "It could have all been really dark, but that's easy to do, for me. I find it much harder to write something that's beautiful."
Big As The Ocean took shape at Hothouse Studios, and at Rosie's home in St Kilda. Apart from basses, she plays most of the guitars, with additional colour from special guests Sean Kelly, Karolina and Attila Kuti, Phil Bywater, Gareth Skinner, Peter Jones, Julitha Ryan, Cameron Goold and Craig Harnath.
"It's listening music," Rosie says. "It isn't background, to me. I want people to listen. I want them to be moved."
- Michael Dwyer
Warning: placing this CD into your player is like diving straight in off the deep end. Westbrook has created a remarkably synaesthetic collection of soundscapes, following up the work she begun with 2003's Wave, and this is one wave that could very easily sweep you away in a riptide of sonic beauty.
Big As The Ocean is moody, dark and aptly-titled: certain moments do conjure not just images but feelings of the gentle swell of a moonlit, wine-dark sea at midnight, the gentle strains of Westbrook's double bass standing in for whale-song, or perhaps the creak of a passing galleon. Before long, you'll find yourself in a place you don't want to come back from, because it makes your own world seem small and banal by comparison.
The album oozes creativity and flair, as the classically-trained Westbrook (accompanied by her band and special guests) guides the listener through a world of her own making. From the threat and urgency of Chant to the brittle delicacy of Amoeba, the emotions evoked by this album ebb and flow like a body of water. A remarkably poignant record; listen in the dark, with your eyes closed, and let it bear you off into the unknown.
– Baz McAlister