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Michael Bisio & Tomas Ulrich: Pulling Strings

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Of all the string lineups, the bass and cello don't often get to hang together. The generally underutilized cello is often called in place of the bigger bass, or sometimes (as in Ron Carter's case) is used as a second instrument. The bass is generally not invited to string quartet parties, and it's generally paired with higher-pitched instruments or left with supplanting rhythm. Michael Bisio and Tomas Ulrich, however, find a terrain to stake claim to in the low-register duo.

Ulrich, an unpredictable and exceptional player, has recorded with Yuko Fujiyama, Taylor Ho Bynum and the CT String Quartet. Bisio (Joe McPhee, Eyvind Kang, Joe Giardullo) is equally adept at making unusual approaches still sound in the pocket. The pair covers this largely uncharted ground fairly admirably on these thirteen tracks, which range from quiet to scrapey to darkly melodious.

Only four of the dozen pieces (one presented in two takes) are credited to both musicians, suggesting that at least two-thirds were composed ahead of time—indeed, one, "As the Spirit Moves, was penned by guitarist Dom Minasi. But the pieces have a largely improvised feel: a spontaneity and a sense of finding their way, rather than reinterpreting a motif. They rather feel inside-out; germs of ideas seems to develop and resolve over and over in the four to seven-minute spans. At the same times, they strike a number of distinct moods and approaches—the recording feels like a series of discrete works, however opaque.

A couple of insights come through in two tracks, or rather fail to. The two takes of "Epilogue for Frank Z are radically different, not even starting in the same place. The Minasi piece does state and repeat a theme, but does so so boldly that it again comes off as a dialogue more than a score. Either way, it's beautifully played, the lines repeating almost like they're sung in round, loping along and just missing butting against one another.

The CIMP production value can be so polarized on some sessions as to become a bit sterile. Here, however, the polarized aesthetic ("Michael is on the left, Tomas is on the right ) is welcome. The players are so sympathetic, and their sounds and ideas overlap so much at times, that the separation saves it from becoming a muddy wish-you-were-here.

Track Listing: Blues for Melodious T.; Starstruck; As the Spirit Moves; Two Joe Sopranos; Large Muscles; Epilogue for Frank Z - take 1; Epilogue for Frank Z - take 2; All Soul-O; Call Waiting; Up to Tomas; Its Own Universe; Longer then Fours; Vamp On Out.

Personnel: Michael Bisio: bass; Tomas Ulrich: cello.

Title: Pulling Strings | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: CIMP Records

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