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Stefano SCODANIBBIO (1956-2012)
Alisei (1986) [9:07]
Ottetto (2011) [30:39]
Due pezzi brillanti (1985) [9:32]
Da una certa nebbia [18:16]
Daniele Roccato (double bass)
Giacomo Piermatti (double bass 2)
Ludus Gravis double bass ensemble/Tonino Battista
rec. 2014, Pitch Audio Research, Perugia; Studio Controfase, Rome.
ECM NEW SERIES 2598 [67:43]

I first came across Stefano Scodanibbio’s work through another impressive ECM album called Reinventions (review). This release uncovers another aspect of his creative life as a virtuoso double bass player. Alisei or ‘Trade Winds’ features his compositions for solo bass, for two basses, and for bass ensemble, including the world premiere recording of Ottetto, which covers the extended techniques he invented or developed. “It is his great spiritual legacy”, says Daniele Roccato, who co-founded the Ludus Gravis bass ensemble with Scodanibbio. Da una certa nebbia for two basses is also a premiere recording. Daniele Roccato first encountered Stefano Scodanibbio’s playing in Paris in 2008: “I listened, thrilled as he unleashed that immense energy of sound, shaping it all the while,” and the two bassist/composers came to share a deep friendship.

The title track Alisei is a solo for double bass that seeks, as the composer described, to make the double bass “sing with its own voice.” This ‘song’ is a haunting exploration of overtones, transforming the instrument into one for which high, almost falsetto tones sound eerily natural. The duality between the essential tonality of overtones and the ‘de-tuned’ effect of some notes in the series - as you get in natural or hunting horns - creates a marvellous tension, and moments in which the lower tones are invoked resonate like a deep bell in comparison. Subtle trill and ostinato textures add to the atmosphere in this remarkable piece, which is better heard than described.

Ottetto played by the double bass ensemble Ludus Gravis has a slow, elemental development that passes through some delicious moments in which the basses imitate and converse with each other - sometimes treated as a single massive instrument that can create striking fields of sound - elsewhere throwing effects and ideas as if like large rubbery balls between strange, alien beings. The ensemble coalesces in a secretive rhythm like a subterranean Rite of Spring but clichés are always avoided, the rhythmic drive having its own intriguing texture and sonority, the answers from above at times sounding like a lost band of mournful clarinets. This is a substantial piece at 30 minutes, but there’s never a dull moment and the quietly, and at times stormy theatrical dramas of Ottetto by no means outstay their welcome.

Due pezzi brillanti is a remarkable piece of virtuoso composing and playing. Daniele Roccato describes it as a “rapid alternation of harmonic sounds and ordinary notes, creating a counterpoint between two layers” in the first part; the second being one in which “a simple rhythmic cell grows and develops through the accumulation and layering of various notes, right up to its stunning epilogue.” Da una certa nebbia for ‘double bass and another double bass’ uses the second instrument as the ‘misty veiling’ of the title, against which the main double bass deliberately suspends time in a Morton Feldmanesque way, with a rarefied slow procession of double-stopped intervals. That ‘misty veiling’ isn’t as passive as you might think, chiming out essential pizzicato notes that comment on or complete a momentary harmony. The effect is King and Queen as imagined by Henry Moore - strong and with an aura of silence, but with a magnetic attraction and a powerful influence on its surroundings. The music is by no means static, going on that organic journey that Scodanibbio takes so well, but the atmosphere is consistent and deeply authentic.

This is a recording that goes beyond a niche interest in the capabilities of the double bass as an instrument, though it certainly is an ear-opener in that regard. This is some seriously inspiring and intriguing contemporary music played by someone who knows all about what is going on behind the notes on the page, and as such is very much worth your attention.

Dominy Clements


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