Joe Williamson

The Inhibitionist
Jedso Records #2

Barre Phillips

Portraits

Kadima Collective Recordings KCR 025

Guillaume Viltard

Running Away

Un rêve Nu urn 001

Double bass solos were barely tolerated and usually treated with condensation in jazz before the 1960s At that point, new sonic experiments liberated nearly every instrument from its expected role. Like similar sessions for reeds and brass, solo string projects began to appear in profusion. This trio of solo bass CDs demonstrates how the concept of individual improvisation now has a history of its own and how the strategies adopted to do so are being extended by a new generation of players.

Barre Phillips however is veteran explorer in this territory. An American who has been based in Europe since the 1960s, Phillips recorded Journal Violone, one of the first solo bass albums, in 1968. A more easygoing affair, Portraits is an object lesson in string and wood finesse. On then other hand, Ivory Coast-born, French native Guillaume Viltard and Canadian-born, Stockholm-based Joe Williamson are at least a generation younger than Phillips, and their CDs ring with improvisations that are earthier – in Viltard’s case literally – rougher, more frenetic and use more uncommon techniques to contort additional textures from the bull fiddle than Phillips does.

Running Away’s final tracks are more basic, because as they were recorded outside within Bouconne forest, the sounds heard besides Viltard’s measured stops, staccato abrasions and spiccato pops are aviary chirps, whistles and peeps. The bassist, who in other contexts has worked with saxophonist Heddy Boubaker and pianist Nusch Werchowska, takes the bird calls in stride, paralleling them with his own mid-range plucks, creaking tremolos and other sound extensions, but making no attempt at mirrored onomatopoeia.

These same rubbed staccato lines and bouncing string sweeps are applied in more controlled studio circumstances earlier on. Powerful in execution, it often seems as if Viltard is physically digging into the sound currents with both hands, exposing whistling flutters, resonating slaps and wood-rending growls. Sweeping from sul pontiucello squeaks to slippery staccato strokes during the improvisations, his bass-string expression encompasses the fiction engendered from plucking tightly wound, very thick strings, as well as multiphonic soundboard thumps that result from the bow rubbing against taut strings.

Williams, a peripatetic European traveler who has played with stylists as different as guitarist David Stackenäs and pianist Misha Mengelberg, has a similar command of his instrument on The Inhibitionist’s three extended solos. Most impressive is the title track which uses broken-octave scrapes and intermittent note clusters to create a distinctive narrative. Connective rather than solipsistic in his playing, Williams layers and positions different tones so that overall harmoniousness is revealed. These harmonies bypass mere tunefulness however. Using glissandi to move upwards to accelerated squeals and pummeling downwards for knife-edge scrapes, his strategy is more direct than aleatoric. Thumping the strings or tapping the instrument’s waist and belly, his note-placement is still descriptive enough so that the layered tones complete a musical thought. Elsewhere massed sul ponticello and basso rumbles evolve slowly enough to reveal bowed polyharmonic and polyrhythmic textures. At points producing a tone that resembles that of a bass clarinet, his moderato strokes and mirrored rebounds affiliate in such a way that the resulting tones seem as inevitable as breathes.

Neither of these sessions may even have been conceived if not for then pioneering work of Phillips, who has played with everyone from saxophonist Evan Parker to violinist Malcolm Goldstein. In an avuncular mood during the six selections recorded at a Graz concert which makes up Portraits, Phillips alternates his bass playing with talking, describing his relationship with the bulky instrument and his history as an improviser.

Down to business, he proceeds to improvise in such a way that often the four-string bass sound as if it has several more strings. At one point he strums guitar-like on the strings while creating secondary accompaniment with the same string-set. Phillips’ higher-pitched textures are often cross-popped as if he was playing a dulcimer, yet flow cleanly in the lowest range, resembling bass-guitar pops. At certain junctures in fact, it appears as if Phillips’ reverberating pedal point is not only creating mandolin-like twangs, but also staccato strokes and reverberations which could be defined as Scruggs’ picking. And all this is done matter-of-factly.

Probably the high point of the disc is” Up and Out”. Here clicking and clanking string slaps are stretched with jagged timbres and spiccato extensions. Percussively thumping the bull fiddle’s wood, Phillips exposes strident fundamentals and their extensions, extending the lines further into polyrhythms. Finally he refracts patterns downwards to the bass lowest notes, crafting a highly tonal coda that could be an Appalachian ballad.

Phillips’ earlier experiments helped change the face of the bass, and Viltard and Williamson are talented enough to help carry on this work.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Running: 1. Local 1 2. Local 2 3. Local 3 4. Local 4 5. Local 5 6. Local 6 7. Bouconne 1 8. Bouconne 2

Personnel: Running: Guillaume Viltard (bass)

Track Listing: Inhibitionist:1. The Inhibitionist 2. Substance 3. Lifesaver 4. Keepin’ It Realistic

Personnel: Inhibitionist: Joe Williamson (bass)

Track Listing: Portraits: 1. Right! 2. The Dream 3. Lifesaver 4. Up and Out 5. I Told You So

Personnel: Portraits: Barre Phillips (bass)