Concert promoter Brian Ross and the folks at UC San Diego’s The Loft are no strangers to the concept of packaging a lot of musical bang for the buck -- but on April 7, they totally outdid themselves with a triple-header feature of double-bass mastery free of charge to the public.
Grad students Kyle Motl and Tommy Babin, who are both mentored by Mark Dresser opened the show trading dense thickets of pizzicato -- sideswiping scenes of velocity and downshifting into languid bowed drones and swapping solos with the ease of old friends at a reunion.
Both Motl and Babin employed “extended techniques,” by using mallets stuck between the strings or clothespins attached to them for special timbre effects -- sounding, at times, like the grinding of tectonic plates or the wail of lonely sirens.
Next up was an actual reunion between double-bass masters Dresser and Mark Helias, playing in the cleverly titled duo, The Marks Brothers, drawing on years of chemistry and mutual experience. Beginning with the pulsing, “Zeppo,” it was obvious that each stroke and pull was imbued with intention, as each man paved ostinato pathways for the other to taxi around and hover over.
Things took on a regal nature with Helias’ “Short,” a baroque conversation full of rich moves and countermoves, long glissandi, and a lush blend of fundamental and harmonic. Most fascinating was the eerie sonic underworld of Dresser’s “Tonation,” where long bow strokes evoked the close beating of near pitches.
Helias’ trio Open Loose closed out the evening with a set that demonstrated the accuracy of the band name: free structures that swing through close listening and daring improvisation. Helias’ stuttered plucking over the soft clicks of Tom Rainey set the stage for tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby’s Ayleresque exploration on a group construct. I found it easy to remember the frantic multiphonic sputtering of Pharoah Sanders on “Mutoric,” where the drama ratcheted into a maelstrom from the incendiary contributions of Rainey, whose loose-limbed explosions were a constant joy to hear.
Rainey drummed on his music stand to open the sprawling “Signal Maker,” a stop/start romp that drew stabs and jabs from Helias and Malaby, whose mastery of the altissimo register is always a marvel. My personal favorite came on the penultimate selection, “What Up,” a freebop exercise in a smoking tempo that toggled long passages of swing against jagged, broken rhythms; although the closing, “Chavez,” a slow, stair-stepped modal ballad, had a lot of charm as well.