Unaccompanied might just be the best format in which to appreciate British bassist Barry Guy
's playing. This way there are no distractions, no other virtuosi vying for attention. That is often an issue. Although his discography contains occasional solo dates, they are far outnumbered by the entries for the trio with saxophonist Evan Parker
and drummer Paul Lytton
, other groups and ad hoc meetings. Irvin's Comet
, available as an LP or download, helps reduce the deficit by presenting six solo improvisations recorded at the Improdimensions concert series in Vilnius in 2019.
Guy stands at the forefront of improvising bassists, alongside the likes of Joëlle Léandre
and Barre Phillips
. Alone, the focus zeroes in on his rich personal vocabulary in which legitimate technique (as a renowned classical instrumentalist he has performed with all the leading baroque music companies) allies to an enormous range of self-developed innovations, in which he utilizes brushes, sticks, metal rods and other implements in the pursuit of novel sounds. Furthermore, though his experiments with electronics over the years have fallen away, he does still use a volume pedal to expose the finest details.
None of this would amount to more than an arid technical exhibition were it not combined with his acute composer's ear, which can impart a sense of form to the multiplicity of contrasts, juxtapositions and textures he generates. Of course, Guy founded the London Jazz Composers Orchestra
, The Blue Shroud Band and the Barry Guy New Orchestra, in addition to writing for contemporary classical ensembles, so he brings a particularly refined sensibility to bear even in the most unstructured settings.
It is apparent on the near title track, "Comet," which begins with high whistling harmonics, before plummeting into the lower registers. It presages a dizzying display taking in a succession of quiet buzzes, as if making the merest contact between strings and bow, simultaneously with a stepwise counter motif of muted plucks. Then, at the end of the journey, Guy returns to the same whistling harmonics with which he began, to create an intensely satisfying symmetry.
Calling on a seemingly boundless imagination, Guy gives each piece a distinct character. In some cases that takes on a melodic aspect, as in "Ding Dang A Diddy Ding Dang" with its lush chords, and vivid figures which he has used in other contexts, as well as the emphatic bluesy strum which no doubt gave the cut its title. Those impulses are even more on show on the reflective "Old Earth Home," which incorporates one of Guy's most lyrical themes from "The Blue Shroud," beside rhythmic taps on the body of his bass, comparable to drum breaks. Such moments are balanced by the more abstract inclinations which prevail elsewhere, such as "Oscillating" where he interweaves multiple lines to resemble a colloquy of at least three extremely talented bassists, in an analogue of Evan Parker's solo saxophone sorcery.
The recital concludes with a sudden thwack to cap the prickly scratchy flurries of "Barehead," eliciting enthusiastic applause from the audience, who had the extra pleasure of seeing how all this was achieved. Even without the visuals it is both astonishing and deeply fulfilling.
Comet; Ding Dang A Diddy Ding Dang; Closed Space; Oscillating; Old Earth Home; Barehead.
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