I am something of a bass player myself, though on the subcontrabass
flute rather than a string bass, which however has roughly
the same range. With this in mind, I am always drawn towards
solo repertoire and the kinds of experiment which, as Jeff Weisner
points out, have completely transformed the world of double
bass performance in a lifetime. Composer/bass players such as
Gavin Bryars with his Double
Bass Concerto and other solo
explorations have helped bring the instrument out from the
big bunch of woodwork to one side of the orchestra. This entirely
solo recording by Weisner will do no harm in this regard either.
Descriptions of Armando Bayolo’s Mix Tape led me
to expect something tough and raunchy, but the effect is actually
rather gentle and classical. While based around pop songs of
the 1980s, the six pieces are “arranged within the framework
of the Baroque instrumental suite … like the keyboard
partitas or suites for violoncello or violin by J.S. Bach.”
There are plenty of technical connections as well. Counterpoint
can be heard in the wide leaps of something like the central
movement, …bird can swing… , which starts
like a cross between J.S. Bach and an Appalachian dance. There
are few actually really funky bits in the work as a whole, though
Kid’s Got the Beat does indeed have a beat, and
there are a few flights of gritty heft. Like pop songs, each
of the movements are short, the majority under three minutes.
With quite a high degree of poetic expressiveness this is a
highly enjoyable and approachable piece which allows you to
hear music and forget you are listening to a bass instrument.
There’s some humour along the way, for instance in the
grunting pig rooting around at the bottom of (A [Very] Brief
Meditation on the Nature of) Parentheses as well as technically
awe-inspiring playing such as the final Room to Lay the Law.
Davis Smooke’s Introspection #11,072 is, as the
title suggests, more contemplative in atmosphere, “the
second in my ongoing series of Introspections [exploring] microtonality.”
The upper harmonics are used in an atmospheric opening, which
opens out into further exploring “this tone world in the
beautiful low register of the bass”. This is all very
fine, but if you’ve ever hung around basses and bass players
of all grades you will be very used to hearing this kind of
thing and coming to realise how hard it is to play this large
instrument in tune. Microtonality is an added dimension to music
for which I have a great deal of time in certain contexts, but
the timbral semantics of the bass make it hard to hear this
other than someone ‘searching for the right note’,
which in Jeffrey Weisner’s case is by no means an issue.
This is the kind of piece which to my mind demands an extra
reference point, like Berio’s oboe Sequenza which
works around a single held note throughout. It has atmosphere
and expression, but is alas not particularly memorable.
Michael Hersch’s Caelum Dedecoratum is by far the
most ambitions piece in this programme, stretching the player’s
technical abilities and stamina to the full. Both composer and
performer have known each other since student days, and this
always helps in such an important project. Having the sounds
and capabilities of your musician well established in the mind
and ear make creating an effective and substantial work that
much easier, though Hersch admits to the “exhilarating
and nerve-wracking” challenges of writing for such an
instrument. Demanding to play, this is also more demanding of
the listener, though there is lyricism and drama inherent throughout.
It uses its 20-minute duration powerfully and without waste.
Hersch doesn’t go in much for special effects, preferring
to use the strings and resonances of the instrument with relatively
conventional techniques, as a vehicle for strong musical ideas.
Impact, style, poetry and theatrical flair are all terms which
apply to this work, leaving space for your own associations
and interpretations. This is not an everyday musical landscape,
but it should inspire rather than be seen as one which strikes
Superbly recorded and nicely presented with notes by composers
and performer, this is a highly respectable Innova release -
one which alas may be seen as somewhat specialised, but which
is richly rewarding and deserves a wide audience. The word Neomonology
seems as yet undefined, but is certainly coined in this release.Jeffrey
Weisner’s selection of works shows his artistic vision
to be one which goes far beyond showcasing the double bass as
the virtuoso equivalent of other string instruments. By using
it as a uniquely expressive vehicle in its own right he demonstrates
worlds richly deserving of further development by composers
and performers alike.