Double Bass X 2: William Parker and Stefano Scodanibbio in Italy

In 1981, Patrick Süskind wrote "The Double Bass," an hour and a half monologue by a musician condemned to the background - of the orchestra, even of life - by his chosen instrument. Süskind's double bassist reminds us that he plays the "bottom E," the deepest instrument in the orchestra, but the only composers who've written for it are obscure, and there are only two pieces for double bass and soprano, so he's not about to perform any duets with the mezzo soprano he fancies. He's essential to the orchestra, but standing so far in the back that hardly anyone remembers he's there.

I love the double bass, but Süskind exaggerates only a little its paradoxical condition of indispensability and marginality. Even in jazz, where the bass enjoys a more prominent role in the rhythm section, not many double bassists achieve stardom as leaders. Not even names like Jimmy Blanton, Percy Heath, Wilbur Ware, Scott LaFaro, Richard Davis, David Izenzon, Sirone and Mark Dresser are likely to ring a bell with people outside jazz. Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden, Christian McBride and Esperanza Spalding are the exceptions to the rule.

One of the more striking albums I've heard recently is "William Parker e Stefano Scodanibbio Duo Bass Duo," an improvised duet between two of the greatest bassists of our time. If you were to write a history of free jazz since the late 1960s, one of its threads would surely be the bassist William Parker, a composer, bandleader and artistic community leader who has also been a sideman in groups led by David S. Ware, Cecil Taylor, Frank Lowe, Matthew Shipp, Peter Brötzmann, Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, Roscoe Mitchell, Bill Dixon, Don Cherry, Billy Bang, and many others. As Mark Dresser writes in his liner notes, Parker is perhaps "the most in demand and profound bassist in Free Jazz history." The Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio, who died in 2012 at just 55, worked closely with the composers Giacinto Scelsi and Luciano Berio (who authorized Scodannibio's edition of the Berio "Sequenza XIVb, originally composed for cello). He composed some impressive string quartets for the Arditti String Quartet, and also performed solo as an improvising composer; one of his most memorable pieces is an eerie, patiently throbbing piece called "The Voyage That Never Ends." Nearly 20 years ago I heard Scodanibbio give a haunting recital at a New York art gallery, performing John Cage's "Ryoanji" and a piece by Terry Riley, who was in the audience. Riley was full of beatific smiles that evening, as I recall - his music was in very good hands.

The Parker and Scodanibbio duo was recorded live in Udine in 2008, three years after they met at a music festival in Canada and Scodanibbio suggested they perform as a duo. "Nothing was said," Parker says, "the first sound broke the silence and the music spoke for itself."

It still does, and AUM-Fidelity is to be commended for releasing this not very commercial, but historically very important, project. There aren't many duo bass albums:  among the few are Dave Holland and Barre Phillips's 1971 recording for ECM, "Music from Two Basses;" "Shut You Mouth," by Slam Stewart and Major Holley; and "Mark Brothers," by Mark Dresser and Mark Helias. Parker and Scodannibio come from different musical worlds and have very distinctive styles, but they also have much in common. Scodannibio was trained in classical new music, but was very much at ease in improvising contexts; Parker is a jazz bassist in the line of Wilbur Ware, but has always embraced far-flung musical languages. Both men excel at both pizzicato and arco, and both have the ability to generate great waves of sound. (As Dresser writes, "together they project a musicality bigger than the two individuals.") As they weave in and out of each other's lines, they increasingly converge to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish them: the point where a unified force field of the double-bass forms, and fills the room with its inescapable presence.

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