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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Solo Double Bass Extravaganza

Listening carefully to many solo double bass albums over and over in a few weeks may cause a re-calibration of your body frequencies. The 14 albums reviewed below resist common descriptions, all experimenting with the bull fiddle (one with another sound artist and other teams with a vocalist). But all can guarantee that your sensitivity to the deep-toned vibrations may expand to other vibrations that move this planet and its living beings, and fulfils the wish of one of the prolific bassists, Luke Stewart, to lead to a radical change.

Joëlle Léandre - At Souillac en Jazz (Ayler, 2021) ***** 

French master double bass player Joëlle Léandre has recorded many solo albums since the early eighties, most likely more than any other free improvising double bass player. The last one, At Souillac en Jazz, was recorded live during the festival by the same title and in the Saint-Jacques church of Calès in Lot, with the audience and two short pieces as a private after-set once the audience had left, in July 2021 by jazz journalist and film director Christian Pouget (He directed her musical portrait Affamée, 2019). Pouget, who wrote the poetic liner notes, captured beautifully the spirit of the commanding of Léandre’s tour-de-force performance: “The huge sound, instantly gripping the body, is overwhelming far beyond the music, an experience so strong that tears flow when it comes to the sung parts. From the depths of the ages, evocative of a Native American medicine woman, an Inuit shaman, voodoo priestess or even blues woman, extracting with bare hands her strings rooted in clay, transcending the sound of her double bass, she awakens a thousand-year-old buried 'collective unconscious' with her voice of trance, inviting ancestral spirits to a form of resistance to fight all the injustices of the world, piercing with sound and love the hearts of both aficionados dreaming of impossible musical utopias and of novices stunned by her visceral ‘duende’” The audience thought that Pouget was absolutely right, and obviously, me, who was fortunate enough to experience a few of Léandre’s magical and highly poetic performances, could not agree more.

Nina de Heney & Lina Järnegard - Solo piece for peace, please (Geiger Gramophone, 2021) *****

Solo piece for peace, please is a composition by Swiss, Gothenburg-based double bass player Nina de Heney and Swedish contemporary composer Lina Järnegard. This composition was inspired by fellow-Swedish writer, poet and artist Cia Rinne’s “notes for soloists”, which experiments with the performativity of the text and language at all in readings and collaborations with artists and sound designers. De Henry plays the double bass and cymbals, and this composition was recorded at Cinnober Teater in Gothenburg in 2019. The highly poetic Solo piece for peace, please intensifies the dark, woody, resonating tones of the bowed double bass - with the bow often employed as a percussive instrument - with the resonating tones of bowed, metallic cymbals. It offers nuanced drones that seduce the listener to wander within its enigmatic tones and overtones. Often, De Heney suggests puzzling, chaotic soundscapes by the bass augmented with the cymbals, almost industrial ones, in a way that adds an abstract sonic dimension to the cryptic text of Rinne.

More to see here.

Gonçalo Almeida - Monólogos a Dois (A New Wave of Jazz, 2021) ****½

Prolific Portuguese, Rotterdam-based Gonçalo Almeida is known for the range of his musical tastes - modern jazz and free jazz, chamber music, brutal jazzcore and contemporary experimentalism with a few combinations in between. His extensive, restless work has sharpened his instincts, techniques and musical imagination and equipped him with impressive physical power. Monólogos a Dois is his second solo double bass album, following Monologues Under Sea Level, released on his own Cylinder Recordings in 2015. In between, Almeida recorded a double bass duo with Dutch Raoul Van Der Weide (Duas Margens / Live at Pletterij (Cylinder, 2017). Monólogos a Dois was recorded at the Old Church in Oud-Charlois, Rotterdam in July 2020 and released as a limited edition of 100 vinyls plus download option.

The 12 monologues are actually distinct dialogs with the double bass, covering the intimate, introspective and often stormy relationship with the bull fiddle. Almeida often sounds as charming and tempting the double bass, dancing gently with it, but also investigating its timbral qualities, provoking or struggles with it and attempts to submit the resisting instrument to his sonic vision, always with natural authority and captivating elegance. The acoustics of the empty, reverberating church contribute to the thoughtful, austere spirit of this album. Guy Peters, who wrote the liner notes, stresses the clever ways that Almeida corresponds with seminal double bass players, from Barre Philips to Charlie Haden, and, indeed, Almeida knows how to tie together different approaches, influences and a vast palette of sounds as well as an array of extended techniques and to own them all, in his own fascinating and special way.

See more here.

Paul Rogers - This Is Where I Find Myself (AudioSemantics, 2021) ****  

British Paul Rogers is known for his many collaborations with reeds player Paul Dunmall, including in the Mujician quartet. He plays the A.L.L. double bass, designed by him and built for him by Antoine Leducq, with 7 strings that cover most of the cello range and the double bass range, plus sitar-like sympathetic strings. This Is Where I Find Myself was recorded during April and May 2020, and Rogers says that he recorded with no goal, just letting his “heart, mind and soul be open. It's got nothing to do with what instrument you use, it's the spirit you put into the music”. Rogers plays the bass exclusively with the bow and often his extended bowing techniques suggest that he was playing simultaneously on a few strings instruments or cover the whole range of a string quartet. The two extended pieces “Flexible” and “Now” explore the infinite possibilities of the A.L.L. double bass, as an imaginative sonic generator of alien, resonant multiphonics, conventional and exotic string instruments, or dark overtones of a deeply suggestive drone. All reflect the restless, inquisitive mind of Rogers and performed with a sense of powerful urgency and captivating authority.

Gus Loxbo - Trådknaster (Noshörning, 2021) ****

Trådknaster ('threads' in Swedish) is the debut album of Swedish double bass player Gus Loxbo, who also plays in the experimental-pop bands Pombo (with sax hero Anna Högberg) and Silent Blossoms. Loxbo recorded nine compositions for this album at Elektronmusikstudion EMS in Stockholm in February 2020. His classical training, education in jazz, improvisation and electroacoustic composition enables him to harness experimental threads into subtle yet suggestive textures. Loxbo balances cleverly and organically his extended bowing techniques, the dark and woody, vibrating sounds of the double bass and brief silences to sketch fragile and tentative sonic images and stories, and attaches poetic titles to them. “Allt det vackra” (All that Beautiful) highlights a touching melody, and “Ett Spirituellt Liv Med Fågelerfarenheter” (A Spiritual Life With Bird Experiences) suggests a hypnotic, ritualist pulse. The longest pieces “Där Tankar Föds” (Where Thoughts are Born and “Pappa” capture best his imaginative aesthetics, often transforming the double bass into a totally abstract sonic entity. The beautiful cover art of Henning Trollbäck matches the sonic vision of Loxbo.

See more here.

Àlex Reviriego - Raben (Tripticks Tapes, 2021) **** 

Raben is the second chapter in the trilogy of solo albums inspired by German poets from Spanish, Barcelona-based double bass player Àlex Reviriego, known from the Phicus trio. This chapter is inspired by the writings of Paul Celan (1920-1970), who was born in Romania but wrote in German and follows Blaue Tauben (Sirulita 2018), dedicated to Georg Trakl. The upcoming chapter will be dedicated to Friedrich Hölderlin. Raben was recorded by Phicus colleague Ferran Fages in the winter of 2019. Reviriego says that this chapter retains the numbing cold of the winter days when it was recorded, and unlike the bleak expressionistic spirit of Blaue Tauben, it has a more contemplative and pensive mood. He imagines Celan’s stark and cryptic language with mysterious, dissonant sounds created by extremely slow and almost static, repetitive bowings, muted stubborn tremolos and luminous harmonics. The uncompromising music stresses otherworldly sounds of the double bass defined by its dark and austere suchness, with no attempt to suggest a narrative or overt emotionality. The music, like Celan’s poems, creates its own intense and evocative sonic environment and its inner chart of codes and meanings within which it must be listened to.

Paroxysm (A Front Recordings, 2021) **** 

Paroxysm, i.e. a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity, is the duo of Austrian, Berlin-based double bass player Werner Dafeldecker, known from such experimental bands like Polwechsel and Splitter Orchester, and Irish and fellow-Berliner sound artist Roy Carroll, who plays here on electroacoustic media. They describe this project as offering their “precisely articulated timbre-focused music traverses malleability of material and form, pitch interactions, timbral nature and psychoacoustic phenomena, through continually shifting layers and perspectives on singularities and recurrences. Paroxysm pulls apart the temporal structure of a moment, revealing the glistening molecular density within. They exude certain brutality towards their materials; visceral, emotional gestures amidst the forest of oblique and parallel connections/interactions that form their work”. Together, Dafeldecker and Caroll create an ambiguous sonic entity where the patient and methodical exploration of the double bass’ acoustic timbres is extended and mutated by the subtle, otherworldly electronic sonorities, and at the same time, the double bass intensifies the abstract electronics. The first piece “Tendencies” sketches a minimalist, cold and barren drone, while the second one “Basalt” begins with a darker, more sparse and melancholic tone but slowly aims towards a distant, almost industrial percussive coda, but like the first piece has its own accumulative, arresting effect.

See more here.

Vinicius Cajado - Monu (Urchin, 2021) ***½ 

The playing of Brazilian, Vienna-based Vinicius Cajado knows combine influences and techniques (and extended bowing techniques, including with objects and loops) from jazz, free improvisation and classical and contemporary music, and already praised by Léandre. Monu is his debut album, and he also leads a quartet that released this year its debut album, both on the label Urchin that he co-founded with Austrian-Japanese guitarist Kenji Herbert. Monu offers 12 brief perspectivess of the sonic palette of the bull fiddle, from deep-toned swamps to delicate, lyrical bowing, clever rhythmic patterns and to enigmatic, processes a meditative sounds and otherworldly multiphonics. All are performed with a poetic, sensual touch and often with a sense of reserved drama. The heartfelt “Clumsy” is dedicated to the great Austrian double bass player Peter Herbert, the uncle of Kenji Herbert.

See more here.

Aurelijus Užameckis - Signals (CRRNT Records, 2021) ***½

Signals is the debut solo album of Lithuanian, Copenhagen-based double bass player Aurelijus Užameckis. The music was recorded in September 2020 at the Brønshøj water tower in Copenhagen, known for its unique room ambiance with a reverb of approximately 13 seconds. Užameckis defines Signals as “an ambiguous manifestation of existential considerations that are sonically expressed through minimalistic themes and improvisations”. His approach is quite scholastic and methodic, investigating patiently and thoroughly the extensive sonic possibilities of the double bass, obviously, with extended bowing techniques, and the interaction between himself, the composer-improvisers, his instrument, and the highly reverberating location, the Brønshøj water tower. If I would borrow a few of Užameckis’ titles for his solo pieces, this album offers some imaginative ways to re-calibrate and tame your thoughts and dive into suggestive, nebulous dreams, all arranged as an arresting suite.

See more here.

Hernâni Faustino - Twelve Bass Tunes (Phonogram Unit, 2021) *** 

Prolific Portuguese, Lisbon-based double bass player Hernâni Faustino is known from the RED trio and his collaborations with Nate Wooley, Lotte Anker and fellow-Portuguese musicians like Rodrigo Amado, Sei Miguel and Ernesto Rodrigues. He is also one of the founders of the cooperative label Phonogram Unit. Twelve Bass Tunes is Faustino’s debut solo album and it was recorded at Namouche Studios in Lisbon in January 2020. The album surveys the full spectrum of the techniques and extended techniques of the self-taught Faustino. He is an agile and expressive improviser and a spontaneous composer who knows how to tell suggestive stories, equipped with impressive physical energy, and authoritative sound of his own.

Luke Stewart - Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier Vol. 1 (Astral Spirits, 2021) ***½ 

Works For Upright Bass and Amplifier Vol. 2 (Astral Spirits, 2021) ***½ 

Works For Electric Bass Guitar (Tripticks Tapes, 2021) ***

American bassist Luke Stewart plays in the Irreversible Entanglements, James Brandon Lewis Trio and Heroes Are Gang Leaders and is also a booker, promoter, radio DJ, and musician who is determined to extend and expand the sonic palette of the double bass and the electric bass.

Writer and Historian Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn, who wrote the liner notes for the two volumes of Works for Upright Bass & Amplifier, imagine Stewart’s playing as conjuring up “images of heat”, melting elements of hip-hop, avant-garde music and electronic music. The four-part Vol. 1 is, naturally, sound-oriented and has a quiet, meditative and introspective atmosphere. The sparse touching and bowing of the strings of the double bass punctuate the abstract humming of the amplifier, and these sounds of the amplifier intensify the delicate vibrations of the double bass. Slowly, the bowing of the double bass becomes more intense, raw and louder, deepening the tension with the amplifier’s sounds and suggesting a mechanical interplay. Only on the last part, Stewart’s highly percussive approach to the double bass addresses conventional yet repetitive, rhythmic patterns, eventually taming the amplifier’s humming sounds.


Vol. 2 goes even further with Stewart’s radical sonic experiments, investigating the relationship between the wooden instrument and the electric instrument that amplifies its deep-toned sounds. Each piece offers a distinct perspective of the intersection of acoustic and electronic music - one or two amplifiers or an amplifier with a no-input mixing board. Stewart sees these pieces as symbolizing the intersection of the elements in the natural world, intended “to further explore the developments of the Sound. To inspire deeper personal development, and radical change when needed”. Vanlandingham-Dunn borrows French historian and musicologist Alain Daniélou definitions, and compared these sonic experiments to what neo-Pythagoreans called “music of the spheres”, or what in Indian classical music theory is defined as the vibration of ether, which cannot be perceived in the physical sense, and considered as the principle of all manifestation, the basis of all substance. No double, Stewart creates a series of otherworldly, stubborn and some subtle, whispering drone vibrations while moving the bowed double bass back and forth and suggesting an effect of movement that in its turn, may bring the radical change he hoped for.


Works For Electric Bass Guitar is a collection of five focused and restless improvisations, all recorded in one take. Stewart employs extended techniques and fights with his instruments, scratches, rubs and grinds the bass strings in manic attacks, often in an attempt to mutate the metallic-percussive sound of the bass guitar and transform it into an entirely alien, unsettling and noisy sonic entity.

See more here.

Tülay German & François Rabbath (Zehra, 2021) **** 

French virtuoso double bass player François Rabbath (who was born in Syria in 1931) is revered by generations of double bass players from classical and contemporary music, or jazz and improvised music. The self-titled album is a remastered vinyl reissues of the two duo albums with Turkish great folk and jazz vocalist Tülay German (born in 1935, was forced to immigrate to France in the mid-sixties due to increasing political and cultural repression, and retired from musical activity in 1987). The album offers songs from a self-titled album from 1980 and Hommage to Nazım Hikmet from 1982. The album offers modern adaptions of poems by Turkish poets, mostly by Nâzım Hikmet (1902-1963), a political activist and a romantic, communist revolutionary, and songs in the tradition of aşıks (singer-poets and wandering bards), collected by German’s partner Erdem Buri. Rabbath plays here on the saz and the double bass and arranged the songs - all sung in Turkish - in a timeless, intimate and chamber manner that highlights the passionate, charismatic delivery of German. He alternates the leading instrumental roles between the double bass and the saz and serves beautifully the emotional dramas, all are glowing manifestos for love and justice. A real gem.


Thomas Herbst said...

interesting list of albums / reviews, but pls note: the Tpülay German / Francois Rabbath is simply a reissue of their selftirled album, the 2nd album "Homage To Nazim Hikmet" will be re-released (also remastered) in april 2022! Thanks Thomas / ZEHRA

Stef said...

Impressive job, Eyal! Indeed an extravaganza.

Nick Ostrum said...

Quite an undertaking, Eyal, and well executed. For what it is worth, I completely agree about the Leandre album. I was blown away the first time I listened to it and have been enthralled with it ever since. Incredible stuff.

Richard said...

Thank you indeed, Eyal. This is a great collection. I'm completely hooked now on "Solo piece for peace, please", and this wasn't on my radar at all.

Slightly off topic although it is about bass players, Bandcamp has an article today about William Parker with lots of samples.