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Friday, February 28, 2014

Solo Bass

By Stef 

Of all the solo line-ups that we reviewed, amazingly enough the solo bass album takes the lead position, even before solo piano albums or solo guitar albums. This has something to do with this reviewer's interest in the instrument, but also because of the great albums that we received from artists like Joëlle Léandre, William Parker, JC Jones, Paul Rogers, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Mark Dresser, Michael Bisio, and other luminaries.

Here are a few more that are worth listening to.

Benjamin Duboc - St. James Infirmary (Improvising Beings, 2014) ****

French bassist Benjamin Duboc is clearly among some of my favorite musicians on the instrument. Not only because of his skills on the bass, but primarily because of his great story-telling abilities. He is a master of calibrating tension in his improvisations, using space and pace and good alternation between pizzi and arco, between slower moody moments, violent outbursts and heartrending paroxysms.

In 2011, he released "Primare Cantus", a box set which we can highly recommend, and which you find him in various settings, including long solo pieces.

On this album, he performs two lengthy pieces, recorded at the Eglise Saint-Martin in Bignac, France on April, 2013. The first track is the traditional "St James Infirmary" blues, made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. The mood is down, slow and Duboc creates with a few notes a great universe of resignation and melancholy. The second piece "Saint Martin", is more varied, with calculated silence, fierce bowing, disruptive power-plucking, almost industrial sounding rubbing, and gut-piercing flageolets.

A must for the fans of solo bass albums.

Jon Rune Strøm - Jøa (Stone Floor Records, 2013) ***½

Young and upcoming Norwegian bassist Jon Rune Strøm is known from his collaborations with All Included, Saka and Universal Indians, and some gigs with Frode Gjerstad, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Pal Nilssen-Love ... 

Now he has created his own label and released his first album, and then nothing less than a solo album, not an easy choice for a start. Yet his choice is a good one. In nine tracks he gives us a great view of his capabilities, ranging from power-playing to sensitive arco, but his purpose is not to show off, not to demonstrate his prowess on the instrument, but rather to bring us music, and that he does, tremendously well. Each track has its own sonic character and approach, and Strøm keeps the focus on the essence, developing each piece, creating tension, adding ideas without too much straying, while at the same time keeping the emotional component omnipresent. 

The end result is a surprisingly varied and captivating album for an improvised solo bass album. A musician to watch.

Adam Pultz Melbye - Gullet (Barefoot Records, 2013) ***½

From Denmark we get this beautiful solo album by Adam Pultz Melbye, a musician reviewed before on this blog in the company of Marcus Pesonen, with "Angel", and soon also with Mikolaj Trzaska.

The album's title - and artwork - are inspired by a quote of Samuel Beckett "… when you cease to want then life begins to ram her fish and chips down your gullet until you puke and then the puke down your gullet until you puke the puke, and then the puked puke until you begin to like it. The glutton castaway, the drunkard in the desert, the lecher in prison, they are the happy ones.”. The question is: does the music reflect this, and the answer is clearly "no". The music is carefully constructed, sensitive and precise, with an adventurous search for sound, be it pizzi or arco or hammered. The performance was also recorded in a church, the Koncertkirken, in Copenhagen. 

Even if at moments the album sounds like an exercise in style, the authenticity of the artist's search stands beyond a doubt, as he tries to carve true meaning and sentiment out of sound, and it must be said that the most adventurous pieces, such as "Knee Right", "On The Nothing New" and "Zossener" get my preference. 

A nice album from a promising artist. 

Fred Marty - Ondes Primitives (Kadima, 2013) ****

Fred Marty is a French bass-player who produced his own solo CD on the Kadima label from Israel, known for its dedication to adventurous bass-playing.

Of all the albums reviewed in this list, Marty's effort is possibly the most intimate and physical one, like a Kowald or Léandre, his interaction is one of unrestrained contact, exploring the instrument's body and strings as in love-making, making it groan and sing and soar and moan, it is less about the overall sound than it is about the actual material touch, which is rooted deeply in old soil, which resonates better with tribal rhythms and incantations that go beyond music, as in "The Shaman's Voice", and Marty is at his best on pieces like "Torsion", where the instrument screams as if under bodily stress, you hear the creaking of the tuning pegs, the suffering of the strings, and you wonder how he manages to bring this instrument to life, this golem of sound, which creates a reaction of empathy with the listener, it is not the sound you care about, not the artist you care about, but the instrument itself. You actually deeply care about it. That physical!

Yet it is not all violence, it is, as said, also love-making, like on "A Côté du Sol", a bowed piece on various strings, with moaning, yearning, almost drone-like sounds which at the same time sound dark yet also shimmer with delight. Marty keeps exploring, with cautious plucked sounds, with space and sticks and other utensils, deeper and deeper into the possibilities of this instrument of wood and strings.

An album worth loooking for, and one that will not only be enjoyed by bass-players.


KReilly said...

Tom Blancarte has an amazing solo bass LP on Tubapede Records.