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The Pandemic Sessions: Solos, Part 2


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The entire world was in lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, and of course, that included musicians. Unable to tour and record with their various ensembles, many artists prepared solo projects (some recorded before the virus struck). Most of the music is very personal, as if the artists are asking the listener to consume the music in a socially distant manner, meaning in private.

Barry Guy
Irvin's Comet
NoBusiness Records

The old joke about people finding it appropriate to talk at a concert or club during the bass solo has never applied when Barry Guy is onstage. For over 50 years, his performances have always been riveting, be it in the trio format with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the Barry Guy New Orchestra or his Baroque and new music performances. Like his fellow bassists Joëlle Léandre, Barre Phillips, William Parker and Peter Kowald, it is nearly impossible to separate the corpus of the instrument from the performer.

This live recording from October 2019 in Vilnius, Lithuania, is available as an LP edition or download. It connects back to Guy's LP Statements V-XI For Double Bass & Violone (Incus, 1977) and Fizzles (Maya Recordings, 1993), another solo outing.

From the turbulence of the opening "Comet" to the new music explorations of "Ding Dang A Dingy Ding Dang," the bassist explores—maybe more accurately exploits—his instrument's physicality. Guy, playing solo, sans overdubs, can sound like an entire band, sometimes utilizing his patented arco and pizzicato techniques simultaneously. "Oscillating" vibrates with bowed energy, sounding like an electronic intervention. The final two tracks, "Old Earth Home" and "Barehead," travel from gossamer chamber music to a punk demolition of sound.

Mark Feldman
Sounding Point
Intakt Records

It goes without saying that Mark Feldman is a virtuoso violinist, but "virtuoso" often connotes the absence of a sense of humor, and Sounding Point is anything but humorless. It's less Slim Gaillard-funny and more like Carl Stalling using strings to enhance the visuals of a Warner Brothers cartoon. There's an animated language to Feldman's delivery.

This solo recording is 26 years removed from Feldman's previous outing, Music for Violin Alone (Tzadik, 1994), but he's still been heard in nearly 300 recordings since, including Deep Resonance (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2020) from Ivo Perelman and the Arcado String Trio, Susan Alcorn's Pedernal (Relative Pitch Records, 2020) and various projects with his partner Sylvie Courvoisier. Her composition "As We Are" opens the disc as a two-way conversation by way of overdubbing. The other cover is Ornette Coleman's "Peace Warriors," another overdubbed performance executed with the same naivety for which Coleman was celebrated. Like the great saxophonist/composer, Feldman has a knack for making virtuosity sound simple.

Massimo Barbiero
Foglie d'erba
Self Produced

Even before the world was plunged into a social-isolating pandemic, Italian percussionist Massimo Barbiero was releasing solo recordings. Listeners who are only familiar with his work with Enten Eller and its larger cousin the Enten Eller Orkestra E(x)stinzione are in for a treat with Foglie d'erba, which translates as "Leaves Of Grass." Barbiero takes his title from Walt Whitman (1819—1892)'s famous poetry collection. Just as his solo release Simone de Beauvoir (2014) quoted Ernst Hemingway, Mantis (2016) referenced Lewis Carrol and Sisifo (Splasc[H] Records, 2013) was inspired by Albert Camus, Barbiero ties this recording to a literary legend.

For this release, Barbiero's percussive voice is pared down from the elaborate creations he is partial to when playing with the percussion ensemble Odwalla and which often include dancers and vocalists. Here, it's just Barbiero with his marimba, vibraphone, gongs and other percussive instruments alone in the woods. While he chose Whitman, Henry David Thoreau's musings from Walden pond might have also worked well.

Each composition—whether dedicated to the clouds, rain, wind, or flowers—is a celebration that only a musician/poet could invent. Barbiero allows his vibraphone to echo with calming decay on "Sea Of The Brine Of Life," his marimba bubbles and pops in "La Rupe," and his timpani adds bottom to "Schiuma d'Onda." The music captures the isolated feeling most of the world experienced in 2020.

Joe Moffett
Stress Positions
Neither/Nor Records

Joe Moffett is a member of Carlo Costa's Acustica, Earth Tongues and Twins of El Dorado and also led his own quintet for Ad Faunum (Not Two Records, 2012). The trumpeter's second solo recording is preoccupied with breath. Of course, all wind instrument recordings are concerned with breath. But for Moffett, recording this work while doctors were rationing ventilators for the sick and George Floyd's dying words were "I can't breathe," breath is paramount. Even the title, Stress Positions—a police tactic used to subdue a suspect—sets off alarms. The trumpeter's breath, heard as he forms notes or inhales to catch it, represents a very human struggle.

Moffett's brief opening salvo, "Milkweed Salad," attacks with an urgent sputtering growl and sprints to its conclusion as if Moffett's thoughts were spilling unchecked. His approach on "Feinting Bulb" is to blow circular breaths to exhaustion, regularly pausing, the only sound being his own inhalation. Moffett is a member of a new class of trumpeters like Nate Wooley, Peter Evans and Axel Dorner who are reimagining the sonic capacities of their instrument. He utilizes other materials like metal (or is it paper?) to create resonant overtones on "Luxury Drywall Manoeuver." Moffett also sheds notes, using the horn's body on "Succulent Midnight Quicksilver" to allow for a breath-only sound experience both chilling and comforting at the same time.

Mattias Risberg
Kullen Reko

Did you ever consider a musician to also be an artificer, inventor, or skilled mechanic? Saxophones have reeds, keys, levers, pivots and tubes, all which need to work mechanically. The piano is a machine with thousands of parts that affect its vibrations and harmonics.

Mattias Risberg is such an artificer. Besides the piano, his work with organ pipes, bells and the acoustic properties of the spaces they inhabit is quite impressive. His ensemble Mining recorded Live In Stripa (Kullen Reko, 2019) in a Swedish ore mine. On Still, Risberg stays above ground but burrows into his piano by transforming it with objects.

Still is an album of prepared piano improvisations. Risberg refashions this piano into a sound-generating machine, reminding listeners that a piano is a percussive instrument with soundboards and strings struck by hammers. From his altered pianoforte, he coaxes gong sounds on "Under," chimes on "Luft," and xylophone-like notes for "Slummer." His approach is to improvise music from his mechanical experiments in sound alteration. The busyness of "Verksam" gives the impression of multiple instruments, a piano duo with a pan drum. The same duo of sounds is demonstrated with "Nedan" but with a more sympathetic tone. With Risberg's manipulations, there is no operator error in this beguiling encounter.

Gianmaria Aprile
Rain, Ghosts, One Dog And Empty Woodland
We Insist! Records

There is a walk you can take back in time with Gianmaria Aprile that brings you to a physical and spiritual space. The guitarist and sound artist visits both on Rain, Ghosts, One Dog And Empty Woodland. His journey is accomplished in seven parts that form a nearly unbroken whole.

This is Aprile's first solo recording. He can also be heard in Luminance Ratio with fellow sound artists Andrea Ferraris, Luca Mauri and Luca Sigurtà; the free jazz ensembles Pipeline 3, Pipeline 5 and Pipeline 8; and the psychedelic rock band Ultraviolet Makes Me Sick. On Rain, Ghosts, One Dog And Empty Woodland, Aprile's destination is Solbiate, a small village in Italy's Lombardy region. Is this his birthplace? Is it another small commune that has been vacated by all the young people who have moved to the cities? Probably, but the places holding one's roots and where they've had so many experiences leave indelible marks on the soul.

Traveling with Aprile (maybe as his dog), we visit this place and catch glimpses of ghosts in the form of shadowy hallucinations. His shimmering guitar effects open "Part I" as spectral sounds over a plodding drone. The music is part ambient and part field recording from a fourth or fifth dimension. Aprile takes us there with his guitar and guqin, an ancient Chinese instrument. He dabbles in melody for "Part II" and an outré blues in "Part III" resembling the collaboration between Thurston Moore and Loren Mazzacane Connors. The journey progresses through the science fiction world "Part IV" and the static feedback of electronic switches "Part V" before entering dark woods as the trek ends. Perhaps like Dante's Inferno, this is just book one of a trilogy.

Tracks and Personnel

Irvin's Comet

Tracks: Comet; Ding Dang A Dingy Ding Dang; Closed Space; Oscillating; Old Earth Home; Barehead.

Personnel: Barry Guy: bass.

Sounding Point

Tracks: As We Are; Sounding Point; Peace Warriors; Unbound; Viciously; Rebound; Maniac; New Normal.

Personnel: Mark Feldman: violin.

Foglie d'erba

Tracks: Sea Of The Brine Of Life; Il Prato; La Rupe; Schiuma d'Onda; La Nube; La Pioggia; La Chimera; Il Fiore; La Ferita; L'abbandono.

Personnel: Massimo Barbiero: marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, timpani, gongs, percussion.

Stress Positions

Tracks: Milkweed Salad; Feinting Bulb; Luxury Drywall Manoeuver; Steel Dry Crocus; Succulent Midnight Quicksilver.

Personnel: Joe Moffett: trumpet.


Tracks: Under; Wake; Nacht; Tag; Slummer; Luft; Up; Verksam; Nedan; Uber.

Personnel: Mattias Risberg: prepared pandemic piano.

Rain, Ghosts, One Dog And Empty Woodland

Tracks: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI; Part VII; Part VIII.

Personnel: Gianmaria Aprile: guitar, guqin, effects.

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