I realised at the weekend, while sat listening to Dominic Lash play at close quarters, that I really like the sound of the double bass. Alongside the cello it may well be my favourite ‘standard’ instrument. Tonight’s review CD is a recent solo release on the Creative Sources label by the Canadian ex-pat bassist Joe Williamson named Hoard. Although he spent quite a bit of time in London before moving on to his current home in Stockholm, I have somehow never managed to catch Williamson live, and I don’t think I have anything by him on CD, so this release is my first exposure to his music, and I rather like it. The disc contains two lengthy improvisations, neither of which is easy to categorise, which can only be a good thing.
The first track, Inadvertent attraction of suspicion clocks in at a little less than twenty-four minutes and consists of a constant, unbroken stream of deep, grinding abrasions of various types. The resulting music is deeply textured, made up of layers of activity, often giving the (incorrect) impression that some kind of multitracking could be at work here, but everything is played live, with just a great deal of skill and dexterity in use to create so much deep, dark colour at any one time. The pieces are very simple, and any description I give of them can’t really do them justice, as while essentially Williamson is just bowing firmly here, so strings are pushed to the limits and often ground against the wooden parts of the bass, and contact is made with other parts of the instrument’s body as well, often at the same time to create the effect of multiple events happening simultaneously. The beauty of this music is all in its density. There is nothing light or airy here, no high pitches or smooth tones, just grating, groaning rasps, roars and buzzes piled up on one another with no space in between. The dark, richly grained wood of a bass springs to mind, worn in places, showing its age and yet full of character and detail. This CD is all about the bass, its character, voice, and its potential.
The second, title track follows in similar suit, perhaps with a little more variety and a slightly more broken up structure to the piece, but that deeply seated, earthy investigation of the bass’ most gritty, dusty corners is still there. It feels like angry music, the outpourings made through gritted teeth, straining, stretching, forcefully pushing out these deeply abrasive sounds. Williamson generally steers clear of anything obviously musical, rhythmic or melodic, focussing entirely on texture and how when layered such sounds can take on a character that feels abstracted from the instrument that generated them, the listener’s attention attuned to the slight differences between sounds rather than following any sense of narrative progression. Hoard is a really nice listen, a thoroughly focussed exploration of what could at first seem a somewhat limited instrument, particularly when only played with a bow, without any plucking of strings. The album doesn’t feel like it belongs to any particular end of improvisation’s wide stylistic spectrum and feels thoroughly individual and personal to Williamson. If a double bass looks and feels substantial, then this music follows suit, deep, bodily and perhaps somewhat masculine in its grainy voice. Good stuff.