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Damon Smith, Peter Kowald, Joëlle Léandre & Bertram Turetzky: Bass Duos 2000​-​2007

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Damon Smith, Peter Kowald, Joëlle Léandre & Bertram Turetzky: Bass Duos 2000​-​2007
One function of recordings is to document a performer's development. Damon Smith's Bass Duos 2000-2007 not only captures his artistic and technical evolution, his choice of duet partners represents the expanded options for the bass in creative music since the 1960s.

Two of the three discs in this set were previously released, but they have been remastered by Weasel Walter. The unreleased disc is excellent and, as Smith highlights in his liner notes, the combination of these three sessions makes them more meaningful as a personal memoir and bass manifesto.

The first disc's title, Mirrors: Broken But No Dust, acknowledges Smith's stylistic and technical debt to his collaborator Peter Kowald, which Kowald also recognizes in the first sentence of his liner notes. It includes selections from a duo performance Smith and Kowald did as part of Kowald's 2000 US tour recorded in the film Off the Road as well as studio bass duets recorded a few days later at the session for a quartet date also including saxophonist Marco Eneidi and drummer Spirit. The titular reference to mirrors is appropriate. It is rare to hear free improvisation where the players have such similar vocabularies. This could be an orchestration of a Kowald solo album such as 1995's essential Was Da Ist (FMP). Both men play very aggressively and almost continuously. Strings are often struck hard enough to rattle against the fingerboard or bowed until they roar. Smith came to the bass from punk rock, while Kowald made his debut in the 1960s alongside saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, developing a German variant of free jazz and approaching the bass as a percussive and resonant object rather than as a means to express harmony and meter.

Kowald's unexpected death in 2002 led to the second session. Invited to record a tribute at guitarist Henry Kaiser's home studio, Smith asked Joëlle Léandre to join him. Their duo set is previously unreleased. Unlike Kowald and Smith, Léandre was on her way to a career as a classical bassist when she discovered the free jazz musicians based at the American Center in Paris in the late 1960s, such as Steve Lacy, Frank Wright, and the members of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. She embraced improvisation and new music as alternatives to her conservatory training and to what she has called the "spaghetti concertos" she was learning for auditions, referring to the noodly passagework of the Italian bass virtuosi Dragonetti and Bottesini. Léandre became an important collaborator of composers Giacinto Scelsi and John Cage, while working primarily as an improviser. She has access to a traditionally beautiful bowed sound and clear intonation, when she wants them. Her duets with Smith are substantially less dense than Kowald's, while still incorporating a huge variety of sounds, including ones produced through unorthodox uses of the bow and by hitting or rubbing the body of the bass.

Many of these extended techniques were first codified by Smith's third partner Bertram Turetzky in his book The Contemporary Contrabass. Like Léandre, Turetzky rebelled against the traditional role of the bass and its limited solo repertoire but, while he has recorded improvised music with George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, Vinny Golia, and Wolfgang Fuchs, his primary contribution has been commissioning and premiering new composed music for the bass. Additionally, he created a creative bass lineage through his years of teaching at the University of California San Diego; his students Mark Dresser and Ken Filiano are both exceptional players and teachers whose own students such as Kyle Motl, Scott Worthington, and James Ilgenfritz are continuing the line.

This last disc was recorded in 2007, includes live and studio tracks, and was previously released as Thoughtbeetle. Turetzky and Smith's duets have the most space and never develop the reckless forward energy of free jazz. Like Léandre, Turetzky chooses at times summon a bel canto tone to sing melodies over Smith's bass-created drones, percussion, and noise.

Literary critic Harold Bloom famously described artistic influence as an Oedipal struggle with one's influences, while Sonic Youth named a song "Kill Yr Idols." Bass Duos 2000-2007 is the product of far less fraught meetings. It is essential for anyone who follows Damon Smith's work and is highly recommended as a portrait, in four colors, of the face of the bass at the start of the 21st century.

Track Listing

Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Broken Mirrors April 28th 1; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Broken Mirrors April 28th 2; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 1; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 2; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 3; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 4; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 5; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 6; Peter Kowald & Damon Smith Reflections on April 28th 7; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Throw off the Husk; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Ancestor & the Future; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Lost & Lucid; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Time Dries Up (DS solo); Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Mirrors Without Dust; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Uweaving the Threads (JL solo); Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Listening to the Same Blood; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Hive of Instants (DS solo); Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Building our Erosions; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Flowers Without Venom; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Unfingers its Grasp; Joëlle Léandre & Damon Smith Sky Without Birds; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Vulturegrip; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Coalmarked; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Chalkravine; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Woodsong; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Slickensides; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Southbright; Bertram Turetzky & Damon Smith Northtrue.

Personnel

Bertram Turetzky
bass, acoustic
Peter Kowald
bass, acoustic

Album information

Title: Bass Duos 2000​-​2007 | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Balance Point Acoustics

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