An Hour of Now
Louie Records 031

Tone Time
Wobbly Rail WB014

Hearing double bass and percussion as more than just the components of a rhythm section is something for which most listeners — and quite a few musicians — never develop a comfort level. Yet these two uncommon, yet flawed, CDs show that it can be done.

After years of improvisational progress on many instruments in all sort of combinations, why should the naked bass and drums —or in one of the cases here bass and two drums — upset so many? In the hands of the right musicians, five of whom are represented on these CDs, there’s enough harmony, polyphony and tonality exhibited to balance the instruments’ commonplace rhythmic function.

Of course AN HOUR OF NOW cheats a little bit. While Oregon-based Mike Klobas and Dave Storrs more-or-less stick to non-electrified drums and percussion, Page Hundemer uses his electric bass and sequencers to suggest guitar and organ tones throughout. In contrast, New York downtowners bassist Mark Dresser and drummer and percussionist Susie Ibarra don’t deviate from the acoustic on the aptly named TONE TIME.

Both discs have much to offer, but both fall victim to the same caprice: an excess of tracks — 13 on the trio disc, 15 on the duo session — with too many of the tunes short or medium length. Most of the memorable performances are the most drawn-out ones, which give everyone involved enough space to fully develop ideas.

On the Northwestern session, for instance only “First Now” plus its coda “Got”, as well as the shade over the nine minute “Distorted.org”, really get enough room to grow. On the first, the deliberate bass line helps Klobas and Storrs, who first played together in 1977, create an magnified swinging beat that makes the three sound like a boppy version of Australia’s trance-jazz trio, the Necks. This line is extended when Storrs adds some electronically mutated scat vocalizing to the mix. Hundemer thumps out a steady pulse, while the dual drummers showcase rolls, flams, nerve beats and other kit expansions, ending by bapping away at cowbells, gongs and cymbals for further color. Going right into “Got”, which serves as the preceding tune’s coda, the production ends with distorted wah-wah reverb from the bassman, ratamacues and rebounds from the percussionists, along with sounds emanating from what could be a wooden marimba and a hanging bell tree.

Still, with its sequenced organ tones and buzzing whistles that sound as if they have migrated over from the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park”, it takes a gentle swinging snare drum pulse and some rim shots to establish the tune in an improv mode. But it seems to leach from a variation of jazz to rock during its more than nine minute running time. Although there is some powerful Africanized drum work on show, the ostinato bass line is often distorted by what could be a lead guitar part — from the sequencers? — organ runs — ditto — and wavering sine wave tones.

Then there’s “In Spite of Self”, with a lighter, looser tone than many of the other pieces. Unconsciously or not suggesting a Latin tumbao, with a sequencer line approximating a flute lead and one of the percussionists sounding as if he’s playing timbales, this could be a Herbie Mann riff from the mid-1960s. However, it does end with a bouncy keyboard-led freeboppy line.

As for the rest of the disc, the three players prove their expertise in many improv, jazz, and rhythm-based styles, using everything at hand from thumb pops to amp distortions. Too often, however, space is lacking to strengthen licks and vamps into something more. Maybe these few drawbacks will be overcome next time out.

Dresser and Ibarra too suffer from this insistence on condensation, especially in the later half of their disc. When they don’t let themselves get too po-faced, the two are best when the drummer concentrates on sounding percussion paraphernalia as the bassist unveils his formidable technique.

“The Weaver”, for instance, finds Ibarra rolling out mallet-driven cymbal, snare and tom-tom rhythms, as Dresser’s POMO response involves duetting with himself — plucking some parts and bowing others. Ibarra then begins swabbing out odd tones on the drum top then turns to flams as the bassman introduces higher, guitar-like flat-picking tones in tandem with bass line strokes on his lower strings.

Rubbing her drum tops with what seems to be a cloth is one strategy adopted by Ibarra on “Metatone”, that is, after she has begun the piece sounding a set of unselected and unattached cymbals, extending the tones with bell ringing and tiny mallet hits. Meanwhile Dresser’s hearty arco lifts move slowly downward as he strokes the bottom strings with his bow.

Apart from his tough Mingusian thumps, showcased when he finds it necessary, Dresser can also let loose with a strong rhythmic pulse — as can Ibarra. On the appropriately named title track, the two define a finger-snapper, with a heavy blues-based thwack from the bassist and kettle drum-like steady beats from the percussionist. “Jump” has a foot-tapping Bo Diddley-like beat, with Ibarra using rim shots to emphasize the time. With concurrent strokes Dresser slides up the neck for note variations, as she changes tempo to decorate the beat.

Contrast this to “Surrealm”, which begins with almost dead silence until a

cymbal resonation introduces bowed bass frottage. As Dresser moves the tune forward, Ibarra bends notes from a bell tree and selected cymbals. This shaking is met with strongman’s yanks and quasi-flat picking from the bassist, until her loosened up time-feel, become almost transparent and shimmers away.

Bass’n’drums fanciers of any genre will find much of interest on these two discs. Fewer, longer tracks and more focus could have worked better for the rest of us, though.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Hour: 1.Under It 2. First Now 3. Got 4. Distorted.org 5. Morphed Out of My Mind 6. Hora Hey 7. Swungd 8. It Already Has 9. Yah Yah 10. In Spite of Self 11. Forward Going 12. Twa Wa (Tuna Awe) 13. Second Now

Personnel: Hour: Page Hundemer (electric bass and sequences); Mike Klobas (drums and percussion); Dave Storrs (drums, percussion and vocals)

Track Listing: Tone: 1. Protone 2. Jump 3. Metatone 4. Simmer 5. The Subterrain 6. The Weaver 7. Untold 8. Tone Time 9. Surrealm 10. Slipinstyle 11. Sphere A 12. Sphere B 13. Sphere C 14. Sphere D 15. Epitone

Personnel: Tone: Mark Dresser (bass); Susie Ibarra (drums and percussion)