20090106

John Edwards, Volume [Psi, 2008]

"...she waited for the real men carrying their double basses. The ones that bring the deepest sounds able to vibrate enemies to tears."
(from the liner notes by Marek Tuszynki)

John Edwards is a master of quickly rotating through traditional and extended techniques in a completely fluid way. He shifts from arco to pizzicato to bouncing the screw of his bow between the strings to rubbing the body of the bass with his hands without so much as a pause to indicate he is changing his handling of the instrument. With this vast vocabulary at his fingertips he is able to brilliantly create free jazz-inspired frantically rolling messes, as on the opening and closing tracks of Volume ("Matter" & "Meshes"). This is Edwards at his best -- aggressive as hell, manhandling his double bass, a real man vibrating his enemies to tears.

For the rest of the album, he eschews such hyperactive technical montages and focuses on a particular sound or technique for a longer period of time. This works particularly well on "Battery", in which he hits the strings with the screw of his bow for the entire two-minute track, hanging out on a quick bouncy rhythm for most of the piece, and morphing into something approaching a walking bass line for a brief variation. On the longer tracks, he never sticks to a single idea for much longer than the two minutes of "Battery". Contrary to the tendency in electroacoustic improvisation and reductionism to simplify structure as much as possible and work with a very narrow range of techniques or sounds, Edwards improvises more freely. He is often possessed by flights of fancy, which lead him drastically away from the material he was working with. It is then up to him to bring musical coherence to the piece, to which end he often sharply returns to the initial material, treating the new sounds as an interlude or otherwise distinct part, as if following an A-B-A structure. It is interesting to witness his musical mind at work in such a way, but the results often fall short of creating an interesting or even sensible structure. My favorite tracks ("Saddles", "Battery", "Meshes") all stick to more limited material structurally. The notable exception is "Tunnel", which starts with a totally brutal, crackling arco drone, mostly unchanging for two and a half minutes (pure sonic bliss for me), then abruptly shifts to quiet creaking sounds and moves through a series of other variations from there. Somehow these transitions make a lot more musical sense to me. The quiet sounds seem like a direct and natural response to the heavy, grinding arco, and don't leave me wondering whether a new track has just started, as I do every time I listen to "Pin Drop". He isn't left with any loose ends needing to be forced back into the fold, though he does, typically, end the piece with ten seconds of the initial buzzsaw drone.

Great playing on this disc, and very well-recorded with a stereo mic set-up. A nice addition to the canon of solo double bass recordings.

recommended tracks: 5, 9, 4, 7, 3

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