Bertram Turetzky

Compositions and Improvisations

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Most bassists would agree that two hands represent a good start for work such as this, meaning basically the life of the artist. On one hand, anyone who has ever carried a contrabass around probably wouldn't question the need for a performer to go solo -- after all, who needs more instruments than this? On the other hand, the bassist's traditional role as part of a universe of accompaniment has perhaps helped set in motion the fascinating whirlwind of collaborative gestures that have taken place in the carefully thought-out solo opus of Bertram Turetzky. He overdubbed himself back in the Finnadar days when Charles Mingus himself was called in to give the composer's thumbs-up to a multi-tracked version of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Turetzky has also created the illusion of two people on-stage at once simply by using his own multi-dimensional voice in a dialogue with his rich, full-blooded bass tones, playing off the listener's sense that after all, the bass is large enough to be another human being. He has also been involved in a series of performances with poets, bringing to the task impeccable taste and intelligence -- qualities that often are checked with the "garderobe" when it is time for a jazz and poetry gig. Vinny Golia's 9 Winds label project is to be commended for documenting the activities of this fine artist as he steps forward as the organizer of various musical events. This is not a solo album in the sense of totally unaccompanied playing, as other musicians including Golia and flutist Nancy Turetzky and a small harem of poets take part. The bass is the most prominent voice heard, though -- make no mistake. From the opening "Reflections on Ives and Whittier," it is played with as much beauty as a world-class violinist would bring to a Bach sonata. But the playing also includes the rich, pizzicato style of bass chording that is sometimes compared to flamenco guitar, although on the bass one of the obvious masters is Charlie Haden. Thus, the two important inspirational worlds of Turetzky are established almost immediately; most everything he does he can be said to soar like a hawk over both the classical and jazz scenes, as if thoroughly enjoying the view. When the subject is Malcolm X, as is the case in the poem "Big Red and His Brother," then Turetzky's bass playing is fully up to creating the required atmosphere. The set of three pieces with Williams constitutes a beautiful performance by both musical and literary standards, the funkiness of the white university professor a surefooted example of the truth that are can and will be about music, not race or lifestyle. Turetzky's own set of mini-portraits, combining text and music with a simplicity of movement that is like the best haiku, has turned out to be a wonderful way for audiences of children to be first introduced to the work of performers such as jazz great Mingus, classical guitarist Andres Segovia, and avant-garde classical composer Lou Harrison. The inclusion of this suite, collected under the title of "Poems, Portraits, Ballades and Blues," makes this set an essential collection of Turetzky's solo work. The range of different bass sounds and styles he evokes during this suite is nothing short of amazing, and all of it is beautifully recorded. Those who are more drawn toward purely instrumental improvisation will enjoy "Shazam," the collaboration with Golia that includes some excellent clarinet playing.

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