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Track-listing at end of review
Bass Instinct (Gina Schwartz, Peter Herbert, Tim Dunin, Herbert Mayr, Gerhard Muthspiel, Ernst Weissensteiner)
rec. 11-13 December 2009, Symphonia Studio, Konzerthaus, Wien.
ZAPP MUSIC ZM0019 [63.40]

Experience Classicsonline

Bass Instinct is a group of six Austrian double-bass players, with all but one based in Vienna. The different individuals come from a variety of backgrounds; two play with the Vienna Philharmonic, another with the Vienna Volksoper, another teaches at the University for Music and Applied Arts, Graz and two are composers.

The works on this disc are all contemporary pieces written especially for the group, generally by double-bass players; Barbara Bruckmuller seems to be the non-bass playing exception. The works are all recorded acoustically and not amplified.

The disc opens with El Violagambista by group member Gina Schwartz, who studied in Vienna, Berklee College Boston and in New York. It is a homage to the fact that the bass instrument owes its shape to the viola da gamba family. In fact the work is an appealing mixture of baroque and jazz. Joelle Leandre’s Butterfly II mixes highly rhythmic sections with cries and whispers and allows the players room for improvisation. Leandre is a French bassist and composer active in new music and free improvisation.

American jazz bassist Mark Dresser wrote Lacytude in memory of Steve Lacy the jazz musician who died in 2004 after a long career. Here the piece is played in an arrangement by Gerhard Muthspiel. The piece combines different layers of circular, repetitive movement in a hypnotically repetitive way. Barbara Bruckmuller’s Bridesque has a jazz/funk feel with an attractive plucked accompaniment. Bruckmuller is an Austrian jazz composer and arranger who runs her own big band.

In the CD liner notes Elf by Thomas Stempkowski is described as a row of loops. In it a variety of rhythmic effects such as col legno accompany a melody with distinctly Latin American feel. In fact in many of these pieces, varied though they are, it was the jazzy Latino feel that kept coming back.

Maples and Spruce consists of two movements from a longer work by Mark Helias, the American bassist/composer. Here I would have liked more information than the short sentence given in the notes; you feel that the work is telling a story. The two movements are dramatic and melodic again with some hints of South America.

The booklet says that Georg Breinschmid’s 5/4 is based on a minimalistic pattern, but the liner-notes describe the next piece rather differently to the way I perceive it. What came over to me was an attractive Hispanic melody with a wonderfully richly textured accompaniment.

Young Czech bassist Jiri Slavk’s Ceremony for a Narcissus is a slow, dark piece full of haunting dissonance. Whereas 19 Centuries, by Icelandic composer Skuli Sverrison, starts from Shaker Loops and then develops melodically as well. It is played in an arrangement by Peter Herbert.

Another Gina Schwartz piece, Next to Irnfritz presents a rather attractively jaunty, even sly, melody. In contrast Peter Herbert’s YAK 52 is composed from different types of rhythmic slapping; the piece was originally written for a film by Gerhard Klocker. The last Gina Schwartz piece, Sound of Air, deploys unashamedly romantic melancholy, offset by rhythmic moments.

For the finale, Peter Herbert’s arrangement of Georg Breinschmid’s Zorpner’s Holiday is a jauntily happy piece, complete with whistling. Breinschmid is an Austrian bassist and composer; classically trained and playing in various Viennese orchestras, he migrated to jazz in 1999.

This is an imaginative disc, beautifully played. The combination of six double-basses results in a very distinctive sound; you could hardly mistake the double-bass’s upper register for any other instrument. These pieces develop the sound world of the bass, rather than trying to make it something which it isn’t. The results are by turns serious, humorous and attractively melodic. Do try it.

Robert Hugill


Gina SCHWARTZ (b. 1968)
El Violagambista [2.31]
Joelle LEANDRE (b.1951)
Butterfly II [3.39]
Mark DRESSER (b.1952)
Lacytude [6.05]
Barbara BRUCKMULLER (b.1975)
Bridesque [3.14]
Elf [4.23]
Mark HELIAS (b.1950)
Maples & Spruce I [3.26]
Maples & Spruce II [6.24]
Georg BREINSCHMID (b.1973)
5/4 [6.04]
Jiri SLAVIK (b.1986)
Ceremony for a Narcissus [5.02]
Skuli SVERRISSON (b.1966)
19 centuries [4.38]
Next to Irnfritz [4.47]
Peter HERBERT (b.1960)
YAK 52 [3.50]
Sound of air [6.43]
Zorpner’s Holiday [2.25]





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