Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tetsu Saitoh ‎– Travessia (Travessia, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The recording of Travessia marked the 60th birthday celebration of Japanese double bass player master Tetsu Saitoh, known for his collaborations with fellow masters such as Joëlle Léandre, Barre Phillips, and Sebastian Gramss. Saitoh, as he was looking forward to this event, realized, in his own words, that “a musician only needs to sing one song in life… I will always try to sing my own song.” This modest description may not encompass his genre-binding art, but the program he has chosen for this live recording from July 2016 cements his unique perspective about music and art at all. Saitoh borrows ideas, compositional strategies and improvisational techniques from classical music, Argentinian nuevo-tango, Brazilian choro, modern jazz and free improvisations, but do not subscribe to any genre conventions, but develops his idiosyncratic, highly expressive language. Saitoh felt that this performance may be a “fresh start” in his life. Unfortunately, soon afterward he had to struggle with symptoms of cancer that forced him to limit his activity for few months and only recently has begun practicing and performing again.

Saitoh begins the performance with three pieces that now sound almost prophetic. “Theme of Queen Medea” is a commanding exploration of the overtones and rough noises of the Lydian mode on the bass gut strings. Saitoh associates these sounds with darkness, grief, sounds that are “beyond life and death” for him. The following “Selections from ‘Stone Out’: ‘Introduction’, ‘A Kite’, ‘Finale’" is a kind of contemplative, serene prayer that incorporates elements from Korean shamanic music. “Invitation” concludes this part of the performance, exploring again the Lydian mode, but here Saitoh suggests a brighter, peaceful atmosphere.

“‘Night’ from Flooded Forest Suite,” after the giant painting of Yuji Kobayashi, who also did the artwork for this album, is already a playful and colorful piece that highlights Saitoh great sense of drama and storytelling, as well his extended bowing techniques. The playful, dramatic elements are intensified in the interpretation of the great Brazilian choro composer Alfredo da Rocha Viana, Jr. - known as Pixinguinha - “Naquelle Tiempo” (In That Time), followed by the driving-swinging “Baron Mingus” that offers a fascinating puzzle of quotes from the great Charles Mingus and concluded with an emotionally, intense reading of “Escualo” by the great Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.

Saitoh, as many double bass players before him, struggles with adapting Johann Sebastian Bach Solo Cello Suite No. 6 to the double bass, but his interpretation of “Allemande” is totally different. He focuses on the rich timbral possibilities and harmonics of this intricate piece, stressing the unique qualities of the bass gut strings. His peaceful and quiet encore, “Kiri no Naka no Fukei (Landscape in the Mist), sounds as extending Bach nuanced, mathematical language. Saitoh finishes this impressive performance with an extended free improvisation, “Toda Mi Vida”. This improvisation begins with searching, discovering and sculpting almost abstract sounds, soon gravitating into a coherent course until these sounds are shaped as a mature, nuanced. composition.

Beautiful masterpiece.

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