Virtual Company

Virtual Company
Confront core series/core 12

A gimmick that transcends its gimmickry, Virtual Company is a purposeful matching of live and pre-recorded sounds from living and dead musicians to sophisticatedly create a never to be repeated concert. Unlike other discs which grafted a modern rhythm section onto Charlie Parker solos or used technology to forge a duet between Natalie and Nat King Cole, bassist Simon H. Fell used random algorithms to organize a live session featuring the on-the-spot improvising of himself and cellist Mark Wastell with fragments taken from solos by guitarist Derek Bailey (1930-2005) and tap dancer Will Gaines (1928-2014), separated by numerous pre-recorded silences. Critically this experiment works even better as an audio session than it probably did at the London club in which it was created. For while the live audience would have noted the absence of two players all are aurally present during the over 46½ minute performance.

Gains’ percussive tapping interspaced with verbalized yarns of his 60-year show business career serve as a charming leitmotif to the barbed instrumental sequences. While at times it appears that his interaction is only with Bailey’s pressurized strums and pinpricked string jolts, connections among all four improvisers is also prominent. Although Wastell’s mid-range string slices and Fell’s thumping tremolo sweeps establish textures which extend the shifting continuum, the algorithms allow each to initiate responsive textures to any player’s contribution. An example of this is when Fell produces a travelling collection of emphasized runs after an instance of protracted twanging from Bailey or when stacked swirls from the cellist and the bassist create an evocative duet that contrasts sharply with the spiky frails emanating from Bailey’s guitar strings.

Following a brief silence at the three-quartet mark the improvisation speeds up with below-the-bridge stabs from all the string players and quickened taps from Gaines. Finally after the other two scrub low pitches from their instruments, virtual Bailey unleashes a series of kinetic string taps and strokes. Fell’s and Wastell’s instantaneous scratching rejoinder pulls disparate tones from each participant into a conclusive horizontal line.

Overall, this Virtual Company can be judged a triumphant realization. But whether this particular superb concert can be recreated or whether other players with comparable experience and programming know-how can emulate the procedure are open questions.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Virtual Company

Personnel: Derek Bailey (virtual guitar); Mark Wastell (cello and percussion); Simon H. Fell (bass) and Will Gaines (virtual tapdance)