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Friday, May 12, 2023

Solo Double Bass Day 2

By Stef Gijssels

To complete the list that Eyal Hareuveni made of recent solo bass albums, I can add a few additions that fans might be interested in looking for.

Barre Phillips & Daniele Roccato - Confluence (Parco Della Musica Records, 2022)

Three years ago, on March 1, 2023, Barre Phillips performed live with Daniele Roccato at the Sala Accademica Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome. The latter is one of the leading modern bass players in Italy, and one of a long list of excellent and creative fellow compatriots such as Stefano Scodanibbio and Stefano Battaglia, who are all as comfortable with classical music as with modern new music. They can also be heard together in the Ensemble Ludus Gravis, which consists only of double bass players. 

On this duo album you hear two masters at work, improvising and exploring each other's skills and sonic possibilities, sharing the perspectives from the two different worlds of sound that they originate from. 

The pieces are relatively short, but very focused and coherent, and especially the arco improvisations work best for me. There clearly is a lot of respect and mutual understanding between both musicians, both personally and musically. 

Even if not everything works or is equally captivating, the collaboration and 'confluence' is strong in most pieces, also to the appreciation of the apparently large audience.

Max Johnson - Hermit Music (Unbroken Sounds, 2022)

New York bassist Max Johnson has been the bassist of many ensembles, including with Karl Berger, Chris Pitsiokis, Thomas Borgman, Vinny Golia, next to his own trios and quartets. His first solo album is the result of the pandemic. I'd rather let him introduce the album in all its power honesty:
In many ways, the pandemic marked the ending of a very busy, productive, and happy time of my life. The following two years have been a daily battle to resume being a positive productive human being, and this music represents the dark confusing place I have been living since. Recording this music was very difficult for me, and created a number of mental and emotional challenges I did not anticipate. What you hear on this record is a different bass player, improviser, and person than you would have heard two years prior, and this music symbolizes my struggle with self, reality, purpose, and mental health. This album represents who I am right now, and I am proud to share it with you.
The fact that this music exists, and is here to listen to, and to enjoyed even, contradicts the 'hermit music' feeling of the composer when recording it. The five tracks have a strong level of unpredictability, of deep feelings with often unclear structures. The advantage of this, is that the listener has to be more active, without any chance of anticipation, pushing you to follow every note in its naked expression.

Johannes Nästesjö - The Hand, the Bow and the Bass (Konvoj Records, 2022)

Swedish bassist and educator Johannes Nästesjö also presents his first solo album. His sonic space is more in the realm of free improv, with no clear jazz references at all. I assume that he temporarily resided in Spain, which might explain his collaboration with Spanish artists such as Agustí Fernández, Vasco Trilla, Albert Cirera, Irene Aranda. On 'The Hand, the Bow and the Bass' he finds a nice balance between bowed and plucked bass, bringing slow, moody pieces full of unexpected sonic changes and effects. His music is one of contrasts, with titles such as 'Control-Uncontrol', 'Uncontrol-Control', 'Inhale, Exhale' already indicating some structural aspects to his improvisations, as well as the tensions that the musician and the music are subjected to when confronted with the extremes of disciplined skill and ultimate freedom. 

He asks himself the following research questions: 
  • Can I, by reaching for the utmost limits on my instrument, in dynamically, technically and pitch related ways both find, for me, new contemporary techniques and expand the ways on how to play and perform them on the double bass?
  • Can I, by illuminating, documenting, studying, organizing and re-documenting my musical process, design a toolkit for improvising bassists with contemporary techniques? 
  • Can I, in my musical process both act as the first person, i.e. the subjective musician and as the third person, i.e. the objective observer?

  • If so, can I, as the observer objectively observe and organize the ”discoveries” that I am doing in my daily work as first person.
  • Can I create this toolkit through the limitations that my instrument offers acoustically (the hand, the bow and the bass).
  • And can I through this immerse and widen my musical expressions? - A richer language - more elastic - with more colors. 
Fascinating questions that drive his playing, making it all sound like a very cerebral and rational endeavour, but I can assure the listener that is not limited to this. Beyond this, and at a deeper level, there is the subjective artist with his feelings and personal perspective.

João Madeira - Aqui, Dentro (Miso, 2022)

Drone-like bowed bass with minor shifts and levels of intensity built around a single tone. Some may find it boring, others mesmerising. It requires some good preconditions to properly savour the slowness, the precision and the quality of the sound.

Rick Rosato - Homage (Self-released, 2022)

On his first solo recording Canadian bassist Rick Rosato welcomes us to his refined technique and musical ideas, excellently coming to life in the pristine production quality. The inspiration for the tracks comes from traditional delta blues, from artists such as Skip James, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt. With the exception of the first piece, all tracks are penned by these artists, adding Thelonious Monk and Elvin Jones - also at their most bluesy - to complete the list. 

By itself I find it amazing that an accomplished jazz bassist enjoys working with the relatively straightforward and repetitive structures and chord changes of the traditional blues, yet it works out nicely. Rosato's heart is in this music, and you can sense it throughout. It's not jazz, but I guess that probably only jazz lovers will appreciate this music. The album is short, but that's just a good excuse to listen to it again.