James Ilgenfritz

Origami Cosmos
Infrequent Seams 12

Kyle Motl

Transmogrification

Rope Metal Records 003

Sean Ali

My Tongue Crumbles After

Neither/Nor Records n/n 007

Starting in the 1960s, when improvisational experimenters threw the proverbial musical cards in the air to see where they landed, the idea of solo instrumental recitals became as common as they were in so-called classical music. Although reed and brass players were early adapters, Jackie Robinson-like breakthrough skill demonstrators by the likes of double bassists Barry Guy and Joëlle Léandre among others become so commonplace, that by the turn of the century a bass solo disc became nearly mandatory for those improvisers with skill … and courage. These American bull fiddlers have produced versions of singular double bass mastery. Although none signals the coming of a low-pitched-string-Messiah, each is worthy of respect. Like the distinctive presents offered by the biblical Three Wise Men, each player’s individual gift(s) allows for an original take.

Cheating a bit, New York’s Sean Ali, who usually works in ensemble such as Natura Morta or PascAli, adds cassette-player-sourced field recordings to his four-string interpolations. While the alternately buzzing static and/or muffled voices give him a particular context in which to situate his particularized experiments, in the main they exist like birds near a battlefield; present but somewhat extraneous to the task at hand. “Heartstack” which includes a police radio call among transmission buzzing provides a mechanized variant of the aviary accompaniment. But since its message too is muffled, it’s unclear whether Ali’s moderated sweeps and piercing string- whistles are mocking or commenting on the message. More demonstrative of the bassist’s skills are tracks such as “Missing Persons Report” and “Beneath the Cobbles”. The former indicates how to create a low-pitched continuum – likely with a second stationary bow – to complement the initial spidery, tremolo exposition. With bull’s eye-like precision, spiccato timbres on “Beneath the Cobbles” concentrate string action so that the resulting commotion almost explodes with fire cracker-like sizzles. Overall, the set builds to a climax on the final “Hunger”, where so many string careens and recoils are expressed within so many intricate string patterns that additional hands are suggested. Essentially the animated conveyer-belt-like notes plus the judders and buzzes from extended strings are squeezed into a symphony of blended passages and connective tones.

Differences are starker on James Ilgenfritz’ Origami Cosmos and Kyle Motl’s

Transmogrification discs. Brooklyn’s Ilgenfritz, who has worked with the likes of Steve Swell and Tim Berne, plays four compositions written for him by American composers Annie Gosfield, Miya Masaoka and Elliott Sharp and Australian composer JG Thirlwell all of which are situated in boundaries between aleatory music and freer improvisation. San Diego’s Motl, whose experience range from collaborations with figures ranging from Kidd Jordan to Kjell Nordeson, transforms 15 short improvisations into an aural calling card for his skills.

While the pieces on Origami Cosmos are suitable showcases for Ilgenfritz, a hair-fissure is obvious when comparing work from those whose sympathies come from the downtown New music world, rather than Jazz-improv. Gosfield’s “Rolling Sevens and Dreaming Elevens” for instance accepts the double bass’ traditional role, building her piece with tropes where the narrative is menacing and abrasive. Ascending to the strings’ highest pitches Ilgenfritz’s challenge involves itemizing contrapuntal differences between thumping downward tones and pinched string-scraping. Moored in chamber-music space, Thirlwell’s “Xigliox” asks the soloist to rappel from one pitch extreme another. Only at mid point does this cerebral formalism gain certain warmth as well as touching on Jazz-like beats. A koto specialist, Masaoka brings the multi-string shading of her chosen instrument to her writing on “Four Moons of Pluto” so that at points Ilgenfritz appears to be playing two basses at once. The sudden shower of timbres that drench the piece means that the climax becomes a magisterial showcase where every extension and partial, of every tone is exposed. Downshifting with clarinet-like contralto tones, the conclusion is sweetly harmonized. Sharp’s experimental exercise “Aletheia” calls for dark, thick sounds as the track advances and is expressed via rubber-ball-like bouncing bow motions. So coarse are the techniques that it seems as if the finish is being scrapped off the strings as the repressed violence of the performance is finally resolved in hard string stops.

String, wood and tension experimentation is also upfront on Transmogrification, which is the most percussive and intense of the interpretations here. Notwithstanding briefer selections which concentrate on certain timbres or techniques, like pencil sketches compared to an artist’s multi-colored paintings, longer tracks allow Motl to be more expansive. “Umber” for instance steadies the strings with such bow pressure that it could b the harness that prevent a slipping climber from falling off a mountain, whereas the angled guitar-like strums which characterize “Skryll” are so energetic that one can almost see the wood and strings moving. Like perfecting a developed short-story themes to novelistic length however, ample space is a bonus. Multi-directional string cries on “Phosphene Alpha” allows the theme to be thrust with throat-cutting sharpness. Ambidextrously this motif is alternated with a low-pitched ostinato that appear to be crunched from the instrument’s wood. Defining echoes are highlighted on “Urrong”, with the strings seemingly ruffled by breaths rather than fingers. Like Guy, Motl also appear capable of plinking and plucking at warp speed as on “Transmogrificant 1”, clanking catgut and nearly cracking wood with excitement. “Multiferrous”. The concluding track is a lower-key tour-de-force which adds, among the powerful double thumps that move it forward, allusions to the string experiments on preceding tracks.

Ali, Ilgenfritz and Motl all confirm that the future of the solo bass project is in good hands – and open to further experimentation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tongue: 1. Salutations 2. Fingerdeep 3. Missing Persons Report 4. Beneath the Cobbles 5. Heartstack 6. Lime Works 7. Queens Gothic 8. Hunger.

Personnel: Tongue: Seam Ali ((bass and cassette player)

Track Listing: Origami: 1. Rolling Sevens and Dreaming Elevens 2 Four Moons of Pluto 3. Xigliox 4. Aletheia

Personnel: Origami: James Ilgenfritz (bass)

Track Listing: Transmogrification: 1. Panjandrums! 2. Urrong 3. Skrull 4. Ax[I]on 5. Thwombulous 6. Dnomla 7. Scintillionic 8. Gimblegyre 9. Umber 10. Transmogrificant 1 11. Gnomon 12. Phosphene Alpha 13. Gonx 14. Skryll 15. Multiferrous

Personnel: Transmogrification: Kyle Motl (bass)