The Monstrous Motl

UC San Diego grad student Kyle Motl may take the world by bass storm

Young Miami-transplant bassist Kyle Motl performed his Doctor of Musical Arts recital on Jan. 31 in the acoustically superior Conrad Prebys Music Hall at UCSD, offering a fascinating blend of contemporary classical music and avant-garde jazz -- all performed with clarity and mind-boggling chops.

Motl's program began with Stefano Scodanibbio's "Two Brilliant Pieces," the first of which combined bowed harmonics and stopped notes slurring into one another with surprising ease. The second of the "Two Brilliant Pieces" found Motl using the bow as drum stick, handsaw and paintbrush.

Next up was "S.Biagio 9 Agosto ore 1207" by Hans Werner Henze, where rich, resonant low pitches activated molecules in the listener's sternum. Motl's sure intonation, especially with double-stops in the upper register, was particularly noteworthy. A medley of Anthony Braxton's compositions followed. The lugubrious tempo of 110A transitioning smoothly into the furious pizzicato of 69Q, where the strings of Motl's instrument sounded like they were in danger of snapping off the fingerboard. Motl's reading of 23O featured a moaning arco while the concluding 69B was blistering freebop with heavy emphasis on trills, harmonics and glissandi.

Motl cultivated a lush facility in the lower register on Kurtag's "Signs, Games and Messages," where soft bowing peppered by the occasional fortissimo outburst indicated a study of almost superhuman dynamic control.

The penultimate performance "Axe VII" demanded an almost hilarious sense of audacity along with virtuoso "extended" techniques. These including rubbing the bow along the bridge and body of the instrument and using the left-hand palm to grind atop the bowing hand for raw scraping textures. Radical de-tuning required a trip backstage to reorient the instrument pitch-wise, then Motl returned for a gorgeous reading of Scarlatti's "Sonata K. 34," a piece originally written for keyboard. Using both hands to simultaneously pluck and stop notes, Motl produced harp-like arpeggios using false harmonics in a truly amazing display. Masterful, indeed.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.

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