Bertram Turetzky

Tenors, Echoes and Wolves (From the Underground 1829-1998)

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This collection of performances requires much more than just virtuosity as a contra bassist, a talent that Bertam Turetzky has already displayed for decades. One of his main interests in developing a solo repertoire for his own performances involves combining poetry or other text and music. This, of course, might provoke wincing on the part of some listeners, but those would be winces in vain. Turetzky really pulls these pieces off beautifully, without a touch of the silly hipness that mars most jazz poetry. He has a wonderful voice -- a touch of Orson Welles in its deep resonance and clear articulation, but with a friendlier and warmer tone. The combination of solo bass and voice is particularly nice -- why, it is almost as if the enormous instrument is some kind of a lectern for a speaker to lean on. As a senior professor at the University of California at San Diego, Turetzky has had plenty of time to perfect his chops as a lecturer. The performance of "Cantolobosolo," with text by James Drew, sets an enjoyable tone in its sequencing as the opener. Sections sound as if Turetzky is actually giving a lecture, but with marvelous arco double bass accompaniment. When he suddenly bursts into song the effect is practically hilarious. Scott Walton is brought in as vocal reinforcements on this taxing piece, his job being to howl like the Wolfman, placing this instantly on that furry monster's list of desert island discs. Some of the pieces involve tributes to musicians, similar to the musical vignettes dedicated to Ravi Shankar and Charles Mingus that Turetzky has made part of his concert programs for years. This is where the "tenors" comes into the title, as we have here poems from several different authors paying tribute to the genius of Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins. It is fascinating the way the bassist translates the saxophone material to a completely unrelated instrument, referencing these tenor giants' relationships with their own bassists in the process. Both "Deadbelly," the closing track, and "London Onion" are lots of fun. The latter is based on the surreal poetry of Kurt Schwitters while the former is a musical setting of a poem by Jack Kerouac, certainly fitting since he was one of the authors who was there right from the beginning of the jazz and poetry trip. Deepening the impact of this collection is the inclusion of a beautiful chamber piece entitled "Beethoven Variations," played by an ensemble of two antiphonal trios. The entire disc is gorgeously recorded, especially this ensemble track. The bowed bass, cello, flutes, and pair of clarinets make a rich blend, the harmonies completely uncompromising.

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