The Fresh Sound of Solo Bass

Florent Ghys at Bread & Salt

Solo-bass concerts can be taxing for some, I guess, but to be honest, I often find them exhilarating, and when New Music champion Bonnie Wright opened the fall series of her ongoing Fresh Sound at Bread & Salt with a solo bass and electronics/ video performance by the New York City musician Florent Ghys, I couldn’t have been more pumped.

Ghys flashed images (often of himself, often playing the bass) for a stunning visual counterpoint to what he was doing live, which involved two laptop computers and an iPad mounted to his bass, triggering multitrack loops which layered against his bowed and plucked real-time contributions.

On “Teamwork,” the barefoot musician combined multiple rhythmic and melodic gestures that tended to reveal underlying structures -- kind of like opening a set of nested Russian dolls. Like the composer Steve Reich, Ghys finds much to explore in the pursuit of repetition. The interaction with the video was also quite fascinating, even when -- or maybe especially when -- it forced the listener to divide their focus.

Aside from all the technology, Ghys is a formidable bass player with great intonation and rhythm, and,on “Untitled,” he unleashed an intoxicating melange of arco, pizzicato and what sounded to me like pre-recorded voices, all swirling around the sound of his voice live in the room, producing a dizzying series of overtones that hovered in the air.

The onscreen Ghys stood in front of a meteorology map to deliver a piece, “Blazer and Tie,” that was based on the cadences of announcers reading weather copy in French and Spanish. He also used schematics from Voyager II to pulse along with the throbbing Aphex Twins-inspired electronica on “Melody From Mars,” a definite crowd favorite.

Throughout the evening, the bassist used technology in a very intuitive way to enhance the musical dimension of his approach to solo concertizing -- perhaps engaging more senses than is the norm -- and his performance kept the audience leaning forward and clamoring for more when it was over.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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