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Bass String Duos: Dark Wood Explorations and Jonathan Chen Orchestra

Elliott Simon By

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Judith Insell Joe Fonda Duo
Dark Wood Explorations
Self Produced
2008


Jonathan Chen and Tatsu Aoki
Jonathan Chen Orchestra
Asian Improv aRts
2007



Two very different bassists, Joe Fonda and Tatsu Aoki, each pairs with a different member of the string family to create sonic experiences that stress sonority and explore harmonics. Fonda meets violist Judith Insell on equal terms for the uniquely beautiful Dark Wood Explorations while Aoki is the lone supporting player in violinist Jonathan Chen's Orchestra.

Of all the orchestral string instruments the viola has had the least affinity for jazz. Barely bigger than a violin, it is tuned five notes lower and as a result sacrifices the violin's brightness. In Insell's capable hands throughout Dark Wood Explorations, however, this is more than made up for by a luxuriously warm tone custom-made to blend with Fonda's deeply resonant bass. Insell contributes four tunes and Fonda two as the pair take turns providing the rhythm for the other's free-formish melodic statements and Trane's "India" and Bill Evans' "Very Early" are painted with deep textural strokes. At times, Insell can swing in an almost Stuff Smith way as she demonstrates on the surprisingly upbeat closer "Voo La La Blues." But for the most part this release meets its stated aim as moody harmonics abound and are most intriguing when the two play in tandem.

The lofty aspirations for the cleverly titled Jonathan Chen's Orchestra are nearly achieved as violin and bass meet in intimate yet adventurous soundscapes. Both utilize harmonics and perhaps some electronic aids in performing what is a broad array of improvised compositions. Chen plays in a staccato fashion while Aoki maintains beautiful support that highlights his instrument's depth on cuts like CD opener "Reading Comprehension" and the delightful romp "Capital." It is however, on the more 'out' pieces like "Beneath the Skin" and "Imago" where the duo are at their most inventive, morphing their stringed instruments into otherworldly equipment. The former has Chen simulating an operatic diva while the latter features a somewhat astonishing in-tandem percussive exploration. At times the duo surprises with a catchy melody like that of the mesmerizing "Bracket" or when Aoki plays in a register that seemingly should be Chen's on the hypnotic "Four Twenty-Three." "Backwards" ends the program with a lovely exotic feel brought about through what can best be described as a constructive "birthing" simulated by Aoki's percussive chords and Chen's cries and sobs.


Tracks and Personnel

Dark Wood Explorations

Tracks: India; Very Early; Bill; In the White Cage; Elm; Baghdad Waltz; Song for my Mother; Voo La La Blues.

Personnel: Judith Insell: viola; Joe Fonda: bass.

Jonathan Chen Orchestra

Tracks: Reading Comprehension; Beneath the Skin; Capital; Imago; Bell; Harber; Bracket; Four Twenty-Three; Backwards.

Personnel: Jonathan Chen: violin; Tatsu Aoki: bass

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