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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Masters of the Double Bass

British Barry Guy, Japanese Tetsu Saitoh and German Sebastian Gramss double bass players need no introduction. The three belong to an elite league of masters who recently took part in Gramss heartfelt tribute to the late fellow master Stefano Scodaibbio, Thinking of… (Wergo, 2014). Their virtuoso playing is an obvious given, all three have developed an imaginative range of extended techniques. But most important, all are great communicators of the solo bass art, always expanding its sonic range, and are never bound to any genre or style.

Barry Guy - Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (NoBusiness, 2014) *****

Barry guy first recorded his composition for a solo double bass “Five Fizzles (For S.B.)” on his solo album Fizzles (Maya Recordings, 1993), dedicated to Beckett, short, unnamed prose texts, written in English and French (first published in 1997 as Fizzles by Grove Press). This composition became a staple piece in his solo concerts ever since.

This composition, now divided into five unnamed short pieces was recorded again in January 2009 at the St. Catherine Church in Vilnius, issued now as a limited-edition vinyl EP. These concise pieces, based on simple ideas as Beckett texts, feature Guy masterful art at its best. Guy moves instantly and organically between explorative search of the double bass resonating, timbral characteristics, expanding it with his extended techniques while using sticks, mallets and strings-less bow, to gentle, touching segments and intense struggles with the bull fiddle. Always with superb, highly expressive musicality that distills centuries of music making into timeless, very personal art.

Tetsu Saitoh / Sebastian Gramss - Raku: Double the Double Bass #3 - in Germany 2013 (Travessia, 2013) ****

Gramss began his long-term double bass duo project Double the Double Bass in 2008 with the late Scodanibbio, and later with masters Barre Phillips and Mark Dresser, planning to continue this duo series in April 2015 with Guy. As part of this ongoing project Gramss and Saitoh toured Germany and recorded this album in June 2013 (Saitoh also participated in Gramss all-double bass mass recording, Bassmasse, Gligg, 2013) and reconvened again in October 2014 for a tour in Japan.

The chinese character raku means enjoyment but suggests also two string instruments on wood base. The spirit of the duo meeting indeed stresses the uplifting joy of finding a soul brother for the still experimental, free improvised art of the solo double bass art. There is even humor in the duo playing, as the two mock the clichés of the walking bass roles on the third piece. But the duo is focused on intense exploration of the timbral range of the double bass through an impressive employment of extended bowing techniques that expand the double bass vocabulary. Both build the tension, even the drama, carefully, patiently forming a chamber, stringed unit larger in its sonic spectrum than just two basses, covering the full range of stringed instruments as violin and cello, often turning the basses into colorful, resonating percussive instruments. This searching approach is further emphasized when the duo host violinist Harald Kimmig for a spectacular demonstration of extended bowing techniques reaches its most impressive climax with Phillips in a contemplative exploration of all mentioned techniques.