Bass Duets

Peter Kowald

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Bass Duets Review

by Thom Jurek

Here are three different live sets of bass duets initiated by Peter Kowald between 1979 and 1982. All three are stellar in their attempt at defining, articulating, and realizing new musical paths that exist among free jazz improvising bassists, and also in showing how the instrument itself is defined when encountering a mirror image. Perhaps the four selections put forth here between Kowald and Barre Phillips articulate this best: With his bow, Phillips reaches far past what is acceptable even to him as an "authentic" bass voice, finding, with Kowald's participation and provocation, a musical, tonal, or even sonic voice instead. Here dynamic and drama are interwoven architecturally in a series of microtonal explorations of fragment, nuance, and musical image, both positively and negatively, ultimately arriving at a space where breach, fissure, and crack are the articulations of musical speech. With Barry Guy the affair turns more into a context of muscular, physical mechanics, and with Maarten Altena the bassists attempt, on each of their four selections, to reverse the role of rhythm as it exists not in concert with, but more in opposition to, the very idea of a melodic present, preferring instead to see it as a dead historical and formulaic construction that should be done away with in favor of the utterance of a marginal voice and a restored rhythmic prominence. In all this is a truly dramatic and astonishing recording. Those who encounter this set will never hear the bass the same way.

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