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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bernard Santacruz - Tales, Fables, and Other Stories (Juju Works, 2017) ****½

What do I hear when I listen to the improvised solo bass music of Bernard Santacruz on his live album Tales, Fables, and Other Stories? To hear is not the same as to listen. We hear sound. To sound, we merely react. We listen to music. Music makes us see the world and ourselves in it; it makes us think. Franz Liszt once said,
Music presents at one and the same time the intensity and expression of feeling; it is the embodied and intelligible essence of feeling; capable of being apprehended by our senses, it permeates them like a dart, like a ray, like a dew, like spirit, and fills our souls.
“Music” does not exist in the world as other phenomena do; it exists—and is sensed, is understood, and affects us—in that place we might call the soul, or consciousness, or wherever we are moved by emotions and ideas. When I listen to Santacruz play his bass, I comprehend an “intelligible essence of feeling,” which is not the product of nature or of the object, nor does it derive from the technique of the craftsman nor even of the artistry of the musician. Those things are all be beautiful in their ways, but what music unveils is beauty itself. The world of things exists for my senses. Music exists like love exists: I know it when I am in it.

Three tracks from a live set make up Tales, Fables, and Other Stories: “In the Joyful Whirlwind of the Spirits” (26:51), “From Missirikoro to Sikasso” (11:45), and “Alta Mar” (5:41). Each song unfolds meditatively, poetically. All three are improvised. They bring forth an experience that happens for the first time. Such improvised music will never be a familiar sort of thing existing for habitual experience. We shouldn’t subject it to our ordinary musicological values or marketing preconceptions. Bernard Santacruz does not make familiar, useful, easily assimilable sounds. He alchemizes wood, sheep gut, horsehair, and steel into music.

The solitary music Santacruz creates—percussive, dramatic, harmonic, swirling, reverberant—demands solitary attention. Like the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Santacruz’s avoids “any recognizable shape, any melody you could whistle or sing because it would take away your attention and you would always be listening to find out what was happening to it during the course of music.”

Even when Santacruz repeats a figure or a nearly-melodic line until it almost becomes familiar, he alters it, punching through into another style. And when Santacruz, near the end of “In the Joyful Whirlwind of the Spirits,” seems to quote the melody of “Lush Life,” this moment of “respite” highlights how unfamiliar his music is and how carefully we have been listening. I experience this music as art when I submit to it, abandon usual ways of listening, and refrain from normal ways of thinking and evaluating to, as Heidegger says, “dwell within the truth that is happening in the work.”

What I love about Tales, Fables, and Other Stories is that man, machine, and music meld. To say that a solo bass record puts emphasis on the bass, which this record uniquely does, would be to state the obvious. When I listen to Santacruz play the bass, I think about primordial forces moving through elements of nature. I hear wind in the forest bending trees that gave shape to the airy body of the bass. I hear calls of a shepherd, barking of dogs, and bleating of sheep from whose guts the strings were made. I hear the tools and the skill of the craftsmen who designed, carved, and built the bass. I hear the body and breath of Santacruz, his technique and his passion, and how he honors the bass. These are the earthy, ephemeral things I hear, but from them all Santacruz draws timeless pathos that moves us more ways than one. Tales, Fables, and Other Stories is music to listen to when you’re in the mood to flee the quotidian and enter onto the path of transcendence toward where the art of music dwells.




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