February 2, 2013
Composition No. 6
Umlaut Records umfrcd-06
Yoni Kretzmer’s 2 Bass Quartet
OutNow Records ONR 008
Using the textures of two double basses to enhance the rhythmic and descriptive qualities of ensembles has its antecedents in both large group and combo music of the mid-1960s onwards. However common usage is limited by the necessity of finding sympathetic bull fiddlers, not to mention economies of scale. These CDs – one mostly French, the other mostly American – demonstrate how two basses can be utilized in different contexts. Unsurprisingly neither sounds remotely like the other.
Arriving steadfastly from the Jazz side of the equation is Weight, in some ways a hefty extension of the two-double-bass, Free Jazz experiences of John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and others in the mid-1960s. Front man here is Israeli-born, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer, assisted by polymath drummer Mike Pride and two bassists – Sean Conly and Reuben Radding – who between them have worked with everyone from reedists Anthony Braxton and Daniel Carter to pianist Russ Lossing.
Aleatoric in character, but with more than a passing commitment to contemporary composed music is Paris-based alto saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux’s Composition No. 6. Someone who moves between improv ensemble such as Peeping Tom and r.mutt and Ensemble Hodos, dedicated to graphic music, Badaroux’s nine-part invention is of indeterminate duration and strongly influenced by Avant-Jazz. One bassist, Sébastien Beliah is the co-founder of Ensemble Hodos; the other Swede Joel Grip, plays with Badaroux in Peeping Tom. Clarinetist Pierre Borel is a freelance reeds player; drummer Antonin Gerbal is part of r.mutt; while pianist Eve Riser divides her time between improv, song-based music and a position in the French Orchestra National De Jazz.
Both CDs are concerned with spacious textures of atonal sound experiments, but Composition No. 6 has more of a formalistic cast. With the nine selections – all titled with a “6” plus another added numeral – intermingle the initial narrative is maintained. Throughout, the bassists sometimes double up, but more often each pursues a separate strategy. Usually one sticks to jagged, spicccato arco work, while the other creates percussive string stops and vibrating thumps. At one point early in the proceedings, an additional bow is shoved between one of the bull fiddle’s strings to create extra vibrating tension. But neither that nor the infrequent walking bass lines heard are used rhythmically.
Gerbal is no time-keeper either. His cymbal resonations, moderated pops as well as drum shuffles are mostly there for coloration. What that means is that what percussiveness heard is usually associated with Risser’s hard-handed pumps. But at the same time she too is rarely concerned with comping underneath anyone’s solo. Instead her approach encompasses micro-tonal key clipping, high-frequency glissandi, processional expositions, metronomic patterning and long tones which keep the pulse linear. As for Badaroux’s and Borel’s reed strategies, at points it appears as if the two can never find a note they can’t bend or a reed bite they can swell to altissimo. Significantly even their highest-pitched tones retain a jam session-like coherence, especially when teamed with Riser’s staccato chromaticism and tough dual bass stopping.
Further confirmation of the composition’s linear and circular connections happens on “6.3”, on which a variation of the piece’s jumping theme re appears. After long clarinet glissandi, sliding reed tones, clip-clops from the drummer and double string strokes, a comprehensive climax ends the composition.
Obviously less formally constituted, the eight tracks on Weight, highlight a singular game plans from Conly and Radding. As a purely rhythmic function the two sometimes blend their eight strings for positioned walks or thumps. Elsewhere, one concentrates on strident and spiccato timbres sourced from the instrument’s highest range while the other uses col legno and additional bow or finger technique to come up with equally descriptive earth rumbling tones. Meanwhile Pride maintains a Jazz drummer’s expected role, feeding the others clanks, clumps, ruffs and cymbal claps at appropriate spots to keep the tunes chromatic.
Going his own way, Kretzmer can be praised as one younger reedist who doesn’t think the tenor saxophone came into existence circa 1960. Tunes such as “Giving Tree” and “A Bit Of Peace” find him outputting heavier Coleman Hawkins-style smears and slurs, On the former his improvising is given additional heft as the dual bassist echo and parallel his reed exposition. As for the second, while his solo eventually accelerates to obtuse atonality, he begins in a mellow tone, stretching out spiky tones in the centre as bull fiddlers toss the broken-octave accompaniment back and forth.
Splint-tone glossolalia and references to Trane, Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler are apparent in the saxophonist’s work elsewhere, especially on a track like “Again And Again”, when Pride’s tough pops and heavy backbeat help Kretzmer transition from story-telling mode to pure Energy Music bluster. Even more forceful is “Number Three”, which is almost a dual between the saxophonist’s overblowing and triple-tonguing and the drummer’s cracking cymbal runs and doubled press rolls.
All and all it appears that both groups have created bass hits by showing off varieties of string and reed interface with originality and skill.
Track Listing: Composition: 1. 6.7 2. 6.5 3. 6.4 4. 6.8 5. 6.1 6. 6.9 7. 6.3 8. 6.2 9. 6. 6
Personnel: Composition: Pierre Borel (clarinet); Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto saxophone); Eve Risser (transportable Klein piano); Sébastien Beliah and Joel Grip (bass) and Antonin Gerbal (drums)
Track Listing: Weight: 1. Number One 2. Giving Tree 3. Smallone 4. Again And Again
5. Number Three 6. A Bit Of Peace 7. Detail 8. GT Reprise
Personnel: Weight: Yoni Kretzmer (tenor saxophone); Sean Conly and Reuben Radding (bass) and Mike Pride (drums)