The liner notes say: Mike Bullock, contrabass. Listening to "Boxes Piled on Boxes, All of Them Empty," you will not believe it. The image of piled-up boxes paired with the feedback screeches and hums heard throughout its 24 minutes bring to mind a stack of old Fender amplifiers and an electric guitar, much more than any other string instrument. Welcome to Initial, Bullock's solo album and the inaugural release of his Chloë imprint. This is a puzzling one, the kind you think about long after it has stopped spinning, if only to determine if you liked it or not -- and why. "Boxes..." was recorded on December 2, 2000, at Casa del Popolo, Montréal's reputed free improv/experimental music café. The track begins with heavy audience chatter, which gradually quiets down as the musician assumes his position and starts a very low hum. It rumbles below your feet for a while, setting out on its electrical/acoustic ambiguous existence. More obvious acoustic gestures appear later, like sudden bowing or the vibration of a small object slipped under the strings. The piece remains quiet, slow, almost Zen-like until around the 18th minute, when Bullock stops for a few seconds and hits the distortion pedal. This last section is a bit offending, not as much because it is slightly gratuitous, but because one wishes it would be more devastating, more extreme, to justify its presence. "There Was a Stiff Breeze," 19 minutes long, was recorded a few days later at the Red Room in Baltimore. There is no amplification involved this time and Bullock is in a more talkative -- albeit abstract -- mood. His acoustic playing features some unheard-of extended techniques (an impressive squeaky drone in particular), while steering clear of any identifiable influence from the free improv bass giants. Initial is a demanding album that doesn't fully reward the effort you will be required to put in, but it presents a bassist with a highly personal voice.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture