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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Two Solos from Brandon Lopez

By Keith Prosk

2019 was quite a year for solo contrabass, and here’s two more from Brandon Lopez. Lopez quickly established himself as one of the most exciting voices on the instrument in just the last few years, particularly through fruitful relationships with Gerald Cleaver, e.g. The Industry of Entropy , and Chris Corsano, e.g. Old Smoke . His approach conjures up descriptions of physicality, violence, sinisterness, aggression and recalls the styles of Peter Kowald and Peter Jaquemyn. This is particularly present in his solo work, which represents a sizeable thread of his recordings to date. The two solo releases below are follow-ups to the phenomenal solo quoniam facta sum vilis .

violent starts at the tongue (self-released, 2019) ***½

violent starts at the tongue is 34 minutes across eight tracks of improvisations in the studio. Except for the shorter opener, “Nihilismus,” the tracks are all about five minutes and nearly alternate between a focus on bowing and plucking. Lopez shines on the arco tracks, which display the ferocity for which he’s famous: a kind of flaying bowing, slashing through silence, with the cadence of a crime of passion (“Nihilismus”); balloons rubbing together, punctuated by a chromatic slow bow containing a haunting melody (“I”); whining eddies building to an earthmoving, sonorous charybdis (“III”); a reptilian roar, high tension wires snapping (“IIIIII”). The expressiveness of his bowing techniques might not be paralleled. But the plucked tracks are less impressive. The strings ring against the neck after they’re slapped, there’s a kind of lurching, beastly simplicity to Lopez’ movement, and a grunted humming accompanying the tunes that continues the darkly romantic feeling of his bowing, but the plucked playing here is not lyrical or melodic or very rhythmic, instead often falling to a simple beat from two or three notes. And the structure of these tracks often falls into alternating silence and chaotic attack (compare “II” and “IIIIIII”). There’s just a sense that the plucked approach might be as emotive as the bowed approach if there was greater variation. Still, violent starts at the tongue is an impressive statement from an expressive instrumentalist that showcases a dark world which isn’t often indulged in ensemble and listeners haven’t been immersed in since quoniam facta sum vilis.

violent starts at the tongue is a digital-only release.

Live in Zurich (self-released, 2019) ***

Live in Zurich is a single track lasting 31 minutes of live improvisations. Audience applause is left in, with some zipping, breathing, throat clearing. There’s pauses, as improvised flights run their course, or Lopez calls time before continuing for a little longer. Much of it is his awesome arco techniques. Multiphonic metallic groans from hair and wood through which sonorous swells and a sort of high-pitched Scottish highlands tune leak and drip. There’s some plucking, which is entirely built around the same three notes in “IIII” from violent starts at the tongue. And the encore is all a spidery, wooden roulette of tapping the strings, neck, and body, exploring rhythms, recalling Guy. Diverse, timbrally and technically, and surely a satisfying live performance, but it feels a little aimless and raw for a recorded statement. Which probably says more about expectations than the music itself. Recommended for those who already admire.

Live in Zurich is a digital-only release.

2019 was not just quite a year for solo contrabass but also Lopez himself, who, beyond Old Smoke and these solos, also played on the excellent Early Bird Gets, 12 Episodes , and several other fine recordings. Definitely a musician to stay abreast of.