Friday 11th DecemberDecember 12, 2009
Guillaume Viltard’s solo release Running Away seems a fitting release to be writing about right now. It is a CD that perhaps a couple of years back I would never have given a chance, let alone found myself enjoying over a good number of listens. Why? well its a solo acoustic double bass album that, in some places is busy and talkative. Although there is plenty of invention and diversity in the playing here, I wouldn’t have given it a second chance. We all grow older and wiser sometime I guess. Viltard was born in the Ivory Coast in 1975, making him, at 34 a little older than he looks. He spent much of his time as a musician in France, but moved to London a few years back, where he hooked up with Eddie Prevost’s weekly improv workshop. It is through his involvement with the circle of musicians in that orbit that Viltard came to my attention, initially through some impressive live concerts, and then through this album, which as well as being available as an impressively packaged CD, is also available for free as a high quality download here. Before commenting upon the music itself, I should say that I find the approach that the Un Reve Nu label have taken to this, their first release quite admirable. The CD itself comes packaged between two handpainted pieces of wood, cut up from twelve large oil paintings by ZÃ©havite Cohen. To hold in your hands, its an impressive object, smelling strongly (and wonderfully) of oils and held together with neatly placed magnets the packages really are a labour of love, and while there are 300 of them, no two are the same. They are not cheap though. I paid for mine at a recent gig, simply as a mark of appreciation for the good music I had heard live, and so as to be able to support a musician I like. The fact is though, the music is free to anyone with a computer and a broadband connection. There is no copyright on the music at all, and if you don’t want to pay anything for it, you don’t have to. I don’t think you can say fairer than that.
So how does it sound? Is it busy, gabby, talkative etc…? does it sound like it could have been released just as easily in 1985? The answer is both yes and no to all of these questions. Do any of them really matter though? No, probably not. There are eight tracks on Running Away, and each has its own character. Six of the pieces are named Local 1-6, and the last two, named Bouconne 1 and 2 were recorded outside in a forest at Bouconne, France. The Local pieces all have a particular resonance to the recordings, an echoing, stony presence that make them sound like they were recorded in a large, hollow room, maybe a disused warehouse or similar. They vary between careful, slow, considered pieces like much ofÂ Local 1 through to the rasping, emotive expressionism of Local. Viltard mixes up bowing and attacking the strings with manual plucks and swipes at them, rarely working the body of the instrument, usually just the strings, but with a range of texture and technique that is very impressive, and just a little use of live processing, delay in particular in one or two places. I called the music expressionistic, and really that is a great word for it. Viltard works with raw passion as he plays, losing himself completely into the relationship he has with his big chunk of strung hollow wood. Every last second of the disc seems to be dripping in emotion and power, but this energy is carefully channelled through this range of styles, techniques, and subtle use of technology. Every musical statement, even the quiet, half hidden ones are made confidently and with bold personal commitment that, for me at least, make these recordings very powerful indeed.
Local 5 might be my favourite of the indoor (studio?) recordings. It has a distant, wistful feel to it as it begins, relaxing the listener, putting an arm around you before slowly complicating things, adding intricate detail and fraught, constant, almost overpoweringly urgent bowed sounds. Digging your ears deep into this piece, closely following the music through its endless twists and turns is a troubling, difficult experience, but a powerful one all the same.
Confusingly, the last of the Local pieces, number six, begins, and runs for just a hanful of seconds before the CD player clicks over to the next track, the first of the forest recordings, but with the timer counting down from minus seven and a bit minutes. Certainly, on this beautiful little track birdsong can be heard in the background, but it isn’t completely clear if the recording actually takes place in the forest, or if a recording made there is layered behind the studio capture. As the forest sounds start to take hold in this piece, so Viltard’s playing becomes quieter, and much less busy, as if responding directly tot the gentle calm of these surroundings, or at the very least a recording of them. The downloadable tracks all seem to last different lengths to the ones on the CD as well (Its a “proper” CD not a CDr as well, so this isn’t a case of a bad burn) but again this doesn’t matter. This music probably doesn’t need any great analysis, its beauty comes through the powerful interaction between human and instrument, following a great tradition, but losing none of its power through this. The Bouconne forest tracks (track?) are just lovely, the way the bass seems to duet with the streams of twittering high pitched birds and occasional cuckoo bellows is a real joy.
Running Away is great, gripping, exciting stuff that I can listen to over and over again. It certainly isn’t all blood and thunder stuff, the music is varied throughout, but always deeply sensual. Its also the second straight-up solo double bass album I have spent a lot of time with this year after John Edwards’ excellent Volume. I must be getting old 😉
Download the FLAC files or buy the CD from Un Reve Nu. If you do purchase a copy though, It won’t look exactly the same as the image of my copy shown above.