Ramon Lopez / Barry Guy

January 6, 2019

Siderus Nuncius – The Starry Messenger

Maya Records MCD 1801

Paul Rogers & Emil Gross (Peal)

Bag of Screams

Setola di Maiale SM 3520

Jazz composers/improvisers often speak about building a piece up from the foundation of a rhythm section. But what if the double bass and percussion are not only the rhythm section but the entire ensemble as swell? Here two virtuosic multi-national duos prove that with the proper considerations a so-called rhythm section can provide all of a performance’s needed textures.

Both duos consist of players with disparate experience and backgrounds. Bag of Screams’ nine selections are advanced by young Austrian drummer Emil Gross, who has played with Herb Robertson and Joe Fonda among others, and veteran Briton-in-France Paul Rogers, who plays a specially designed 7-string double bass and is known for his stint with the Mujician band. Siderus Nuncius – The Starry Messenger is a 13-track session featuring one of the world’s pre-eminent Free Music bassists, Briton Barry Guy, who is known for his work with Evan Parker and leadership of large ensembles; and Spanish percussionist Ramón López, who has recorded with Joëlle Léandre, among many others.

Skittering speed and sober story telling mark the parameters of the Rogers-Gross duo, with the pliability of his unique double bass giving Rogers the same efficiency in creating guitar-like narratives as propelling pressured rhythmic positions. For his part the drummer alternates between rumbling time keeping that underlines the bassist’s narratives and enervated cymbal pats that lighten animated bass stroke pressure.

Most characteristic are the three centre track which demonstrate the duo’s prowess in segmented forms. “Blerra”, with hi-hat backing of tough string sprawls, achieves a Mingusian groove. “Shriek” is atmospheric, as Rogers’ tense tones turn multiphonic with near electronic buzzes that are similarly harmonized with rabbit-jump-like drum pops and cymbal sizzles. And “Raunzer” evolves from drum clatters and low-pitched string twangs via rhythm splanks and paradiddles into steady chromatic rhythm.

Open to more timbral inflections, The Starry Messenger’s encompasses Guy’s string-skidding with Hawaiian guitar-like vibrations plus López’s actual use of tabla and tabla rhythms on “Interface”, on which the bassist, unperturbed responding with thoroughly Western plucks. Burly and brawny, “Sundrum” is pseudo-blues with Guy alternately pulling out the rhythm from his lower-pitched strings or splaying guitar-like licks upwards, as López’s back beat become steadily speedier and more intense. Another anomaly is “Extraterrestrial”, which despite its other-worldly title is the most formal track. With its delicate harmonic underpinning throughout, it almost moves into the range of Baroque-styled sounds.

Other than that, the gratification of this program revolves around witnessing two masterful improvisers intuit and interpret each other’s ideas in real time. “Even Horizon” is all rasgueado, with Guy’s rubs and rattles met with popping punctuation from López that hardens as the double bass licks become more staccato. Sharper pitches arise from vibrated tones pulled from below the bass’s bridge on “Expansion`, while “Occam’s Razor” matches warm harmonies from the bass with distant drum plops that echo back onto replications of the exposition. As the combinations are completed, “Afterglow” the final improvisation suggests a certain post-coital satisfaction. However since this session refers to astronomy and musical topography rather than other matters, that interpretation may stretch past music criticism.

Still, judging from the multiplicity of textures drawn from just two mated instruments, both of these duos confirm the adaptability of double bass and percussion to create without the need for other instruments. If following a skillful musical application rather than needing a straight-forward melody appeals to you, so too will these sessions.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bag: 1. Yell 2. Wail 3. Geschrei 4. Howl 5. Blerra 6. Shriek 7. Raunzer 8. Yelp 9. Juchzer

Personnel: Bag: Paul Rogers (7-string double bass) and Emil Gross (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Starry: 1. Galaxy 2. Solar 3. Gravitation 4. Event Horizon 5. Interface 6. Extraterrestrial 7. Sundrum 8. Expansion 9, Sigma Orionis 10. Occam’s Razor 11. Particle Waves 12. Time Loop 13. Afterglow

Personnel: Starry: Barry Guy (bass) and Ramón López (drums and percussion)