Aaron Lumley, Wilderness (Tone Wood Editions)
Wildly popular as a solo instrument since Haydn and cohorts wrote upright bass concertos in the 1700s, the bull fiddle is a most versatile axe. Extended techniques such as percussive tapping and bowing near the bridge can emit everything from canyon-deep echoes to rainbows of shifting harmonics. This enabled modern composers such as Scelsi to write solo works based on a single pitch that rely on the range of sounds a bass can produce to sustain interest.
The role of the instrument also slowly evolved within jazz. The string bass first appeared in the late 1890s, played pizzicato to give the archetypal jazz walk. Slapping the strings against the fret board became necessary when early recorders could not pick up the lower bass sounds, and Slam Smith’s trademark arco playing brought another classical texture to jazz in the 1930s. Avant-jazz of the 1960s freed the bass from its time-keeping role, and recordings such as Barre Phillips’s Journal Violone pioneered album-length bass solos.
Ontario native and Montreal resident Aaron Lumley has absorbed all the above techniques, and that’s especially impressive because he’s largely self-taught (aside from several stints studying with Dutch master Wilbert de Joode). Wilderness’s sonic range makes it easy to forget that everything is improvised on solo bass.
There is a rustic quality to the woody bass sound that makes the LP title the perfect choice. While not as programmatic as, say, Jean Derome’s Canot-Camping, it does not take much imagination for “Woodwose” to evoke the heavy running footsteps of a forest dweller foraging through the bush, or for “Bastard Hawk” to recall the flapping wings of a bird. The latter may be more Xenakis than Mingus, but “Two Matches Left” displays finger-plucking versatility, even if the 4/4 walk is taken at an intense and deliberately uneven gait.
Lumley has pulled off the difficult task of grabbing and holding attention through a solo recording. Put on your hiking boots and enter the thicket.
See Aaron Lumley solo + Emilie Girard-Charest, Bernard Falaise & Guido Del Fabbro at Lutherie Wilder & Davis (257 Rachel E.) on Thursday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m., PWYC ($5 suggested contribution)
From London, Daughter (aka Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli) blend the acoustic and the ambient and bend murky ballads into melancholy shapes.
Well, here’s an odd one. Beck wrote three pieces of music for Playstation 3’s Sound Shapes. Listen to one of them and watch the accompanying gameplay below, and enjoy the gift of sound and vision while you can.