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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Solo Bass

Bass player on the way to play at a village festival, Serbia, 1965 
(by Henri Cartier-Bresson)
By Stef

The bad thing about being a fan of solo bass albums, is that I wait to long to review them, trying to bring them all in one article, but of course that doesn't work well, probably not doing service to the musicians, yet the good thing is that within the strict limits of this unwieldy instrument variation, beauty and adventure resides, depending on whose magic is at work.

Peter Jacquemyn - Dig Deep (ChampdAction, 2014) ****

The first musician on the list is Belgian sculpture, visual artist and bassist Peter Jacquemyn, who is a force of nature when you see him perform live, as the video below will testify. His playing is physical, direct, revealing an immediacy of thought and emotion, that is the foundation of further expansions, as if pushed by the moment itself. He himself uses the Spanish palindrome 'La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural', used by the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela : 'the road offers us the natural next step'.

The first track is a short introduction, but with "Low", a lengthy piece played arco, Jaquemyn demonstrates his skills and musical vision, evolving from intense repetitive bowing over deep drone-like scrapings to sensitive pizzi work.  On "Lower", he accompanies his playing by deep throat-singing, resonating with the bowing that keeps circulating around a low tonal centre, then the intensity increases with a more heavy attack on multiple strings, repetitive and hypnotic.

The music starts calmer on "High", in an amazing duet between bass and overtone singing, a sensitive and gentle exploration of timbre and glissandi, yet the rest of the track offers a contrast of noise and string multiphonics, possibly the result of two bows or prepared strings.

Peter Jaquemyn is the real thing, an artist without compromise, with a sound and a musical 'voice' that is incredible authentic and true to itself ... a thing of value, and great listening.

Mike Majkowski - Why Is There Something Instead Of Nothing (Bocian, 2014) ****

When playing this vinyl LP very loud on the turntable, my wife came running in wondering what was happening. The intense monotonous sound that shook her came from Australian Mike Majkowski's arco bass, who, on the first piece, manages to play a single note for twenty minutes, with slight variations that are sometimes deliberate, with the occasional plucked string in between the drone-like sound, but that are also less deliberate, as the result of sheer physical necessity to change the position of the wrist or the angle of the bow, and the amazing thing is that despite this narrow angle of approach, the music does change, and it is captivating and mesmerising.

The B-side is even more beautiful, with two repeated bowed notes piercing through a sea of silence, to be replaced in the second part of the improvisation with sparse but powerful plucked notes.

Margarida Garcia - The Leaden Echo (Headlights, 2014) ****

Of a totally different nature is this little gem by Portugues bassist Margarida Garcia, a 200 copies one-sided LP of seventeen minutes. The sound of her bass resonates like I've rarely heard a bass resonate, filling the space completely, with long bowed tones that make every nerve in your body vibrate in harmony, whether very deep or very high, it is sad, eery moaning and terrifying at the same time, hard to capture in words (luckily!). The second piece is played pizzi, but with the same calm and sober power, creating a desolate sonic universe that is compelling and unique.

I really and truly wish this album was longer, yet at the same time it creates a great sense of anticipation for more.

Tom Blancarte - The Shortening Of The Way (Tubapede, 2014) ****

Bass players apparently are into vinyl these days, and so is Tom Blancarte, who kicks off the first side with some ear-piercing ferocious bowing, that keeps its dynamics from beginning to end, relentlessly, resulting in an obsessive trance-like incantation, with deep undercurrents of pain and distress, creating wild multiphonics on the strings like several voices screaming to get some relief, to get some rest, to get some resolution, but guess what, they're not getting it at all, transposing the sense of anguish on the listener whose nerves become the instrument of the artist.

The second track is easily as intense, constructed out of quick bursts of sound, like furious scratches of pencil in a sketch, direct transposition of emotion to sound, without preconceived notions, without polishing, without ornaments, just the immediacy of sound as sound, abstract and tense, almost percussive at times, fast and hard-hitting.

Louis-Michel Marion - 5 Strophes (Kadima, 2014) ****

French bassist Louis-Michel Marion is possibly less known, and maybe because his art is a quiet one, an art of precision of sonic quality, of sensitivity to sound, of opening space for sound, yet in a gentle, elegant way. There is no screaming, no extended techniques, nothing obtrusive, no, you get well-paced bowed sounds, circling around a tonal center, with quiet repetitiveness, and intense deepening of the universe created. Even if he gives Joëlle Léandre and Barre Phillips as references, his music is something else entirely, often closer to modern classical music and minimalism than to jazz or free music. 

Ryan McGuire - Civilian (Bandcamp, 2013) ***½

Avant-metal bassist Ryan McGuire surprises with this solo double bass album, offering twelve tracks each with their own character and approach, played both plucked and bowed, and in contrast to what you wold assume, his style bears no relation with the avant metal of Ehnare. The music is varied, lyrical even at times, such as on "At Night", or on "Delicate Creatures", and especially in the middle of the album does he increase his explorations, as on "Quicksands", and "The Speaking Tree". I wish he would have given us some more of that. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Then there are some albums that were released in the past years, and which could also be of interest to fans of solo bass performances. 

James Ilgenfritz - Compositions (Braxton) 2011 (Infrequent Seams, 2012)

This album by James Ilgenfritz only now came to my attention. He transposes material from Braxton to solo bass, not a minor feat by itself, "integrating integrating well-known materials from Braxton’s quartet repertoire, trumpet cadenzas from Composition 103 (for 7 trumpets) and orchestral parts, with some of his numerous improvisation and structuring systems, including the Ghost Trance Music, Coordinate Music, Pulse Tracks, and Language Musics"

Shayna Dulberger - The Basement Recordings (Self, 2011)

Same thing with this Shayna Dulberger solo album, which is now available via Bandcamp.

The album brings us a lot of varied and fresh sounds, with lots of interesting ideas, one or more for each of the tracks, which remain somewhat undeveloped, making the total package sound like the nicely prepared ingredients for a sumptuous dish which you do not get, or just like here, the ingredients can be eaten separately as finger food, and will taste as delicious. 

Paul Rogers -  Solo (Bootleg, 1986)

One of the real masters of solo bass performances is Paul Rogers, whose playing stands on its own, in a different category of music. This bootleg was recorded at Tony Levin's home  15 September 1986, and can be downloaded for free from "Inconstant Sol". Even if sometimes meanders a bit, other pieces are absolutely stellar. He is inventive, lyrical, generous, warm, adventurous, deep, moving, complex, authentic, straightforward, sensitive, intense, ...


Martin Schray said...

You can listen to an excerpt of Mike Majkowski's album here:

Anonymous said...

you should check out Cat Hope solo bass: