It used to be a very rare event for a bassist to make a solo record. Now things have changed a bit, but Beauvais Cathedral
takes the listener back to the day. This disc is not exactly a solo bass disc (3 tracks are solo bass and one is solo cello; the rest are higher-order units) but it conveys a strong sense of single- mindedness and direction. Kent Carter's first experiments in this realm from 1974-75 portray a clever and focused mind at work. The use of edits and overdubs on most of these tracks reveals a coherence and symphonic compositional sense which rarely appears in free improvisation. Exactly how much of that energy derives from the production is hard to tell, but it's probably minimal. (Don't go looking for crystal clear sound herethese recordings are 25 years old, though remarkably well-preserved.)
Carter is a versatile player, and each piece in this collection has its own distinct personality. Some of the common threads include attention to structure, even among the most exploratory efforts; considerable focus on the use of dynamics to develop, sustain, and release tension; and an open-ended willingness to bring strange (and at times otherworldly) sounds into the mix. The best example of pure solo playing can be found on "Bass Suite No. 1: Fingers," where Carter extends and develops a theme using a range of techniques: mostly pizzicato, with plenty of percussive tones, stretching, and drone-like double-stops. More textured work appears on "Play Time," where Carter bursts forth on the cello with impact and energy in response to what sounds like a shortwave unintelligibly scanning across frequencies. At times the cello and radio sounds are nearly indistinguishable, as Carter sneaks in and out of high-register squeaking. Finally, the title tune (with 8 overdubbed voices) sounds dark, treacherous, and eerie as Carter scratches his bow across the bass (and 5 cellos). "Beauvais Cathedral" stands out as something of a pre-electronica dark ambient composition, exploiting higher-order harmonics and eventually insistent tumbling treble tones in an ephemeral onrush of sound.
It's remarkable that one man (with scattered help here and there; see below) could come up with this broad a range of sound. And rather than yanking out all the stops to find unexplored niches in alternative techniques, this disc tends to emphasize creative collage construction and careful thematic development. This record reminds me at times of Dave Holland's early solo work, but Carter's efforts are much more open-ended and multi-dimensional. Best of all, Beauvais Cathedral is a disc that reveals many layers of ideas upon repeated listening.
Personnel: Kent Carter: bass, cello, radio, melodica, piano strings, drums; Phillip Pochon: cello; Michala Marcus: flute; Richard Marechin: piano; Carlos Zingaro: violin.