Monday, July 13, 2009

Bass Players (What I know) Part 3


The stunning conclusion of Bass players, which might not be a conclusion, because I may decide later on in the coming months on Reid Anderson, or Ben Street, or another bassist that comes to mind, but today we have two more!

Michael Formanek

I have had the good fortune to meet Mr. Formanek at Peabody when I was looking for graduate schools. I unfortunately did not set up a lesson with him, but several friends of mine have studied with him and said that he is a really great teacher! I very much trust that opinion, but as a musician, I think he's one of the best on the jazz/improvised music scene today. I probably first heard him in Uri Caine's orchestra music transcription projects, especially some of the Mahler works, played by an ensemble with drum set, electronics, turntables, saxophones, etc... playing various pieces by Mahler, like excerpts from his symphonies. Michael Formanek is also a Tim Berne bassist, like I am just now noticing most of the bass players mentioned have played with Berne coincidentally enough. Formanek was in Tim Berne's group Bloodcount, featuring Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor, and Jim Black on drums. They formed soon after Chris Speed and Jim Black moved from Boston to NYC, and on recommendation from Jim Black, Chris Speed joined the group. I have read somewhere (review, blog, liner notes, something of that nature) that a good descriptor of the band would be "Gradual Coalescence." Taking these really tight hypertension heads with phat pocked grooves, that melt and transform into bowed long tones on the bass, quarter tone squeals with Berne and Speed in their highest registers, and Jim Black's cymbal colors, and all of a sudden are playing a unison melody again. I would like to purchase some of Tim Berne's charts for this band, to get a sense of where the form starts and stops, and the improvised sections begin and end. Formanek has played with a plethora of other musicians like Dave Ballou, to Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, and Fred Hersch, to name a sample of performers. One last musician I would like to hit that he has recorded with is Tony Malaby. From what little I know about both of their teaching styles from friends, it seems like Malaby and Formanek would be pretty similar players. Both seem really great at taking very small cellular ideas, and manipulating them rhythmically to get the most out of them as possible, before trying to add any new information into the improvisations. There is a great record titled "Mirror me" with both of these players on it, under Angelica Sanchez's name...look it up!!

I have this Bloodcount DVD, and musically it is amazing, but I cannot take the weird seizure inducing editing of it...but here's a good example of Formanek with this Tim Berne group.

Skuli Sverrison

Skuli to me is one of the downtown NYC electric bass players. There are countless groups that I hear and think, wow another great Skuli album! I used to listen to nothing but electric bass players, and have shied away from that over the years, but never feel tired/bored by this guy's innovations on the instrument. One of the first group's that come to mind, is his playing on Chris Speed's Pachora group, a NYC band playing balkan/eastern european music. They have a great myspace page here, and check out the list of influences...I found so much great music I would have never heard about otherwise, very intense sounding ensemble! Skuli is on a few records with Brad Shepik, another member of Pachora, and the albums have the same balkan sound, but through different filters. Chris Speed's "Yeah No" is another group of Cuong Vu and Jim Black...mostly Seattle guys originally, that all moved to Boston and NYC together and kept playing music, very incredible unique ensemble! Skuli seems to be a first pick for a lot of guitarists, as he has also recorded with Guitar MONSTER Ben Monder, as well as playing with Hilmar Jensson, another icelandic music such as himself. Skuli was in the first version of the Jensson band "TYFT" which no longer records with bass, instead favoring guitar with octave pedals, and saxophone players...another group with Jim Black drumming. One of my favorite records with Sverrisson's influence is John Hollenbeck's Quartet Lucy, a group that had the goal to make a record about Americana songs, and have an ECM-esque sound. They succeeded, and the musicality of the band make it sound like there are a lot more members than four, at multiple times during the recordings. Lastly, check out Jim Black's Alasnoaxis, a grunge rock band, that has a saxophone/clarinet (Chris Speed) as the vocalist, and Hilmar Jensson and Skuli on the guitar and bass...beautiful and minimal sound, and they just came out with a new record, so go out and BUY IT!!!

This is a video link of Skuli Sverrisson with Wadada Leo Smith, enjoy!

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