November 10, 2011
Neil Metcalfe & Olie Brice
FMR CD 301-1210
Pairing of a double bass and another instrument for improvised duets isn’t unusual in the anything-goes climate that characterizes contemporary sounds. What’s more relevant about duos such as these, is how distinctive complementary textures become. On these CDs for instance, the interaction is palpable, whether the second partner plays an instrument that is often affiliated with the other, like Viennese cellist Johannes Tröndle and Berlin bassist Axel Haller demonstrate on Favoriten; or the two make their points precisely because of a usual pairing, as Londoners, bassist Olie Brice and flautist Neil Metcalfe do on Brackish.
At the same time Metcalfe’s vibrating peeps and strident splatters are far removed from the pastoral lyricism that obsesses many traverse player. A member of the London Improvisers Orchestra, as is Brice, he has also been associated with other experimenters including saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer John Stevens. Much younger, Brice works with such outer-directed players as drummer Mark Sanders and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock. The age difference isn’t as pronounced with Tröndle and Haller. However the decade older bassist is involved in creating dance and theatre music as well as in groups with trombonist Matthias Müller and accordionist Ute Völker among others. Meanwhile Tröndle makes up the nörz band along with bassist/electronic manipulator Andres Trobollowitsch.
In fact, Brackish may be an appropriate title for the British duo’s CD. Every one of the eight tracks is slightly salty in creation, without becoming overly briny or water-logged in execution despite technical tropes. While both frequently reach a climax of similarly staccato timbres, Brice’s sul ponticello scrubs and Metcalfe tongued extrapolations preserve the distinct qualities of their instruments. Not that either has to play his expected role. In one instance, for example, the flautist’s lip percussion defines the rhythmic bottom as the bassist’s moderated plucks and pops move to the foreground.
Tracks such as “Ebb and Flow” and “Twine” demonstrate extended versions of this distinctive interface. Metcalfe’s breaths on the former bulge to the point where they’re suitably thick and brawny, while the glissandi Brice brings to his part practically recreate string-quartet accompaniment. By the finale the bassist’s stentorian plucks and rococo arco coloration provides a perfect counterbalance to Metcalfe’s upward-sliding twitters. “Twine” is even more dramatic with widely spaced shuffle bowing developing in tandem with the flautist’s low-pitched irregular splutters.
Despite the family connections of cello and bass on the other CD, mysteriously enough it sometimes appears as if textures from a reed and a piano have been added as well, This may be the illusory result of creative tones that can be shaped by Haller’s electric bass or perhaps Tröndle’s cello amplification; but technical expertise could contribute to this as well. At the same time, along with the abrasive sound shards shoved into the 10 improvisations by both players, either undulating bass lines or col legno buzzing from the cello ensure that a proper ostinato is established for most pieces. Furthermore many of the tracks are distinguished by glissandi more powerful than dense string friction and could easily come from grinding metal or wood-rending pulls.
Two of the most illustrative tracks are “Cotta” and “Stetzsch”; language and/or translation unknown. Concerned with multiphonics, the former manages to showcase crackling oscillations from both instruments at the same time as Haller creates a steady drone from his lower-pitched strings and Tröndle’s buzzing staccato gradually inflates in volume and speed. There are more squeaks and shakes audible on “Stetzsch” with both string sets revealing partials and note extensions as sounds pitch-slide abrasively. The final variation involves Haller’s finger-styled pops recreating the theme as the cellist’s hard-edged drone evaporates into barely audible wisps.
Fascinating sound intersection illuminated by two atypical duos, either of these CDs should interest double bass players of all stripes, as well as connoisseurs of out-of-the-ordinary music.
Track Listing: Favoriten: 1. Decin 2. Krippen 3. Kolin 4. Znojmo 5. Priper 6. Cotta 7. Biehla 8. Stetzsch 9. Mojcir 10. Zaceci
Personnel: Favoriten: Johannes Tröndle (cello) and Axel Haller (bass)
Track Listing: Brackish 1. Samphire 2. Like a Memory 3. Elliptical 4. Swarming 5. Almost High Tide 6. Hidden Song 7. Twine 8. Ebb and Flow
Personnel: Brackish: Neil Metcalfe (flute) and Olie Brice (bass)