Wednesday, December 16, 1998

Basses Are Loaded

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Among the most trying of improvised musical situations are the solo and duo performances. With this recording, two of the most accomplished bassists in the world of jazz and improvisation have joined forces to reveal a unique approach to duet performance. In addition to her work on the jazz scene, Joëlle Léandre's background includes playing the work of contemporary classical composers such as John Cage. As for William Parker, he has played with the likes of Jimmy Garrison and Cecil Taylor and is probably best known for his work in recent years with people on the New York scene such as David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp.

Recorded at the Sons d'Hiver festival in France at the beginning of this year, Contrabasses consists of four duets, as well as a solo work each from the pair. From the start of the set, it's apparent that the two players are well suited to the dialogue form of the twin bass format. As the performance begins, Léandre's plucking of the strings is countered by Parker's bowing. As the music continues, Léandre switches over to a bow and the pair propels the tempo to a furious pace, before retreating to a dialogue in the upper register of the instruments. Eventually, Parker leaves the bow and finds himself plucking the strings at the lower end of the spectrum. The sound is so crisp and the audience so quiet and transfixed that the outburst of applause at the conclusion of the initial duet is the first indication that this is a live recording.

As the second piece develops, Léandre seems inspired to vocalize along with the instruments. While this may, at first, appear as a bit of a distraction from the basses, her voice soon blends in with the proceedings. As Parker's solo performance begins, one can be forgiven for thinking that it is a continuation of the duet. He has a habit of playing with two bows simultaneously or bowing and plucking at the same time. Of course, Léandre's solo spot is no less impressive. At times, through the sheer energy of the playing, it seems she may saw her instrument in half.

The bass duet is a rare format for performance or recording and these two players reveal why they are at the top of their field. Stunningly played and impeccably recorded, this set is a must-have for fans of improvised jazz.


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