Double Bass
Sofa 511

The Ungrateful Carjacker
GROB 536

Although there’s some basic crossover between the two in execution, the main difference between these solo bass CDs by Norwegian Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Canadian-born, Berlin-resident Joe Williamson goes back to the initial concept.

DOUBLE BASS is a showcase for the jazz and Free Music skills of an outstanding double bass player. THE UNGRATEFUL CARJACKER, on the other hand, is more concerned with the textures and timbres you can produce with an acoustic double bass. In a way it’s the mental reflection of how, say, Ron Carter’s and Barry Guy’s approach to the bull fiddle differs.

Oslo-based Håker Flaten, with 40 CDs to his credit, may be a Scandinavian version of Carter: his breadth of experience includes jazz, improv, electronica and fusion with leaders ranging from the cerebral American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee to Finnish metal-jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim. More of a hardcore improviser, Williamson’s associations include Dutch masters like drummer Han Bennink, German tenor man Thomas Borgmann, peripatetic British types like reedist Evan Parker, Australian drummer Tony Buck and fellow Canadians like Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee.

Able to somehow suggest the drone of electronics, plus tones that sound as if they could have been blown from a saxophone reed or scraped from, the top of ride cymbal, the Canadian’s session hones in on scuffs, screeches and other intermittent textures.

As well as being the title track, the final number here is obviously designed as the bassist’s showcase; at almost 17½-minutes its almost double the length of the next longest track. On it Williamson appears to be hand drumming on the instrument’s front with his fists as often as he rasps the strings with his bow. Busier and quicker than many of the other pieces, the output is also more diffuse, with woodwind-like piercing cries and warbling intermittently mixing with sandpaper-like string rubs that creates reverberations from the lower-pitched strings. Sometimes you hear what sounds like metal grating on metal; elsewhere the distortions arise from quick violin-like arco thrusts. The tune maintains its own rolling logic throughout, whether he’s leaping and jumping with little dog paws onto the bass face or ending the sounds with a final extended thump

Tunes like “Vaglio Fireplace” imply that sine wave-like oscillations plus mechanized intermittent pings could be in use along with bowed cello-like mellow tones arising from the centre of the instrument. Meanwhile, the droning vibrations that reverberate on “Po Co” solidify into waves of dense, sonorous, almost unmovable tones that make it appear as if there’s a motor attached to the front of the bass which causes it to vibrate. In the end, it seems that Williamson’s hacking out a block of pure sound that exists on its own and is not something coming from a stringed instrument. In other spots, a Schwarzenegger-like power allows Williamson to create a scuffed rhythm that sounds as if he’s digging into the bass body and cleaning its string simultaneously, though he alternates this with speedy behind-the-bridge excursions that result in clawhammer banjo-like, high string motions.

Between all this cracking, crackling and loosening of the strings, there’s still a point on “Specially Trained Teenagers” where he fleetingly tugs out quasi-standard jazz timekeeping sounds.

Håker Flaten’s session isn’t like that. Almost from the first track he references the type of woody, subterranean plucks in his playing that go back to the slap-bass technique of New Orleans’ Pops Foster. Furthermore on “Cats & Dogs” he buzzes his strings like a more contemporary Charlie Haden or Oscar Pettiford, and among his tugging and pulling and echoing sounds creates a dialogue between higher-pitched and lower-pitched strings.

With most of the pieces in the two-minute plus range, though, with a couple of exceptions, he confines his output to single explorations per track. “Babylon”, mostly confining itself with the highest parts of the neck, making it appear that he’s playing Scruggs-style banjo rather than bass. He even gets his strings to “talk” for a while until the coda of deep bass notes. Buzzing tones that emanate from the bull fiddle on “The Joy of German Bowing II” — which sound like a combination of racing car acceleration and a moving band saw — could as easily come from a synthesizer or a mixing board. “Ggahmeshu” is a speed merchant display of plucking and pulling triple and quadruple stopping that include further vibrations produced by horizontally inserting a stick between the strings. Finally, “Uluv Uluv” features an aviary attack of multi-string bowing and door opening sounds as if the high-pitched heaving and waving result comes from a violin and viola duo, rather than a bass.

Håker Flaten’s tour de force, at slightly more than 12½-minutes, is entitled “Swedish Impressions”. Un-Scandinavian to the extreme, the echoing thunks at the top appear to be the mewling cries of a small animal or small child. And when the tone gets louder and more insistent it’s as if he’s mixing a glottal Eastern European keen with Oriental lamentation. Before the horizontally inserted stick is reverberated percussively for bottom tones, higher-pitched strident slices sound more like the asymmetric sawing of fiddler Billy Bang than what’s produced by any bass player.

Double bass aficionados take note: these CDs are for you.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ungrateful: 1. The Apprentice of Reality 2.Vaglio Fireplace 3. Po Co 4. Specially Trained Teenagers 5. Heineken 6. Passive Aggressive Kitchen 7. The Ungrateful Carjacker

Personnel: Ungrateful: Joe Williamson (bass)

Track Listing: Double: 1. Danger Music 2. The Joy of German Bowing I 3. Slides 4. Uluv Uluv 5. Babylon 6. Kindred Spirit 7. Ggahmeshu 8. I Loves… 9. Swedish Impressions 10. Cats & Dogs 11. The Joy of German Bowing II

Personnel: Double: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass)