Tremolo – Mike Majkowski’s writhing sound. (music review)

It’s only the start of February in this new year and I have already had one of the busiest years on record. By all accounts its only going to hot up over the next few weeks and months, but on Saturday night I am going to see one of my favorite Australian Jazz bands perform. Roil are performing locally and seeing as their amazing bass player, Mike Majkowski no longer lives on our fair shores, it’s a rare treat that I get to see them live. In fact, I did something else I never do – I purchased a ticket so that I don’t have to take frantic review notes through the performance. Saturday night is a rare night off for me, and I want to sit very still and just listen.

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There are three reasons I want to just sit very still and listen. They are Chris Abrahams, James Waples and Mike Majkowski. All three of these musicians are incredible live, but to treat myself to a warm up I have been listening to Frost Frost as well as a beautiful little disc I have by Mike Majkowski called Tremolo released on the Avant Whatever label.  It wasn’t till last week when I was tidying up the blog that I realized I hadn’t reviewed Majkowsji’s incredible disc. Odd, seeing as its one of my favorite Double bass discs. So this is the post that rectify s that situation.

Tremolo is a disc constructed over the course of about four months in 2011, but is a continuation of solo work begun in 2008 that focuses on variations of the Tremolo technique applied to the Double Bass.  According to the Avantwhatever website:  The piece is based on a number of sonic possibilities – both harmonic and textural – that may be extracted from the use of this technique, which serve as a point of departure. This recording captures a memorable and particularly focused performance of the piece.

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It’s the point of departure that becomes the most interesting aspect of Tremolo, even if it is thrilling to hear the work on the Double Bass. The tremolo effect makes a visual necessary, one almost can’t stand to listen without imagining what it would look like live, and yet some of the sounds are so unfamiliar its difficult to imagine how the instrument was played. The piece starts with fourteen seconds of anticipatory silence pregnant with the forthcoming work.  The tremolo burst starts, not so much loud but uncompromising at the fifteen second mark, as if the silence is not a fragile thing, but rather a strong platform and surrounding space in which the tremolo is housed. This introductory back and forth that relies on the remarkably fast and accomplished flutter of the bow and fingers lasts through to the 2:54 point when the tremolo becomes louder and the silence starts to recede. The disc gets thrilling here, the sound moving in and out of loudness without treating the soft moments as if they are fragile flowers about to break. Tremolo produces a robust, if delicate sound, particularly with the Double Bass as the instrument of choice.

This low continues through some of the sounds I love from Majkoqwski – at times he can make a double bass sound like a set of chimes – and ends at around 11:40.  Silence comes in to punctuate the space between the pieces and we are left with the sounds of the room until 12:43 when Majkowski thrusts us into the sounds of the tremolo without preamble as he did at the start of the track. It’s a lovely moment, again, the pause seems pregnant rather encompassing.  It’s not till the tremolo starts up that the silence becomes collaborative.  When I am alone with it in the room I can only think of what is coming.  It is one of the reasons I love this disc.  I get used to hearing silence as part of a piece, and this is one of the few discs I have where squirm a little through the silence. When it does come in, the double base is at a different pitch, a wriggling thrill ride of a sound, at times sounding like a wind instrument. When the deep dark sounds we are so familiar with finally emerge they are almost drone like, thudding and marching in their relentlessness.  Those wonderful discordant sounds of the string slide make their way to the fore, as the tones gets darker, more relentless and more robust.  This second part floats in and out of semi-silent spaces when I am left alone with the vibration almost as if it were being played against my taught intestine.

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Then A piercing, repetitive, resonating sound bursts through, in complete partnership with all that surrounds it. The same note in different amplifications, over and over.  Its beautiful and ambient as it speeds up dragging my pulse with it. Cracks and shards of sound burst through occasionally, and then suddenly at 26:37 we’re back in the trill and fervor of the tremolo again, the sound writhing and twisting until 30:33 when our third visit to silence occurs. There is a brief mass of rumblings that ends rather suddenly at 33:05 when the silence and all that accompanies it comes back. The final sounds are unique.  They sound more like recorded electronica than a double bass. And then by 35:10 the piece has scratched its way into a complete silence that signifies an end.

The entire piece was recorded live in 2011 on the 15th of May.

You can get a copy of the disc at the Avant whatever website here.

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