10 October 2011

Double bass

It wasn’t the double basses at John Mackey’s gig that attracted me, but it did interest me. There have been experiments before with two basses, or two drummers; Ornette even had two bands. In the end, there were three basses, although only two ever played together at one time: Jonathan Zwartz and Rohan Dasika played together, and Max Alduca took the solo bass chair on one tune.

This was not a highly organised or charted gig. It was unrehearsed and more a hot session with some great players performing John’s standard sax repertoire. John likes it this way and it went down a treat. Long blows on just six tunes over two sets: Blue 7, Jonathan’s “Something more ambient” jam, Miss Jones, Footprints>Giant steps, Oleo and Take the Coltrane. Standard modern sax workouts from around the ‘50s and Jonathan’s ambient groove insert. But what playing! These are amongst the top local players, and it showed. John shredding tenor harmonies and Matt contorting lines on the alto. Andy moving through chords with a post-bop sensibility and fluency. Mark pushing with steady brushes and sticks on a woody-sounding kit and occasionally loosening up for a short solos. Rohan and Jonathan listening, and avoiding each other’s domain: high repeating lines against walks, or bowed solos against grooves or just dropping out for uninterrupted single bass lines. I found the basses did merge a little. It’s low down there, and the tones aren’t as identifiable as two horns together or even two pianos. Rohan said before the gig that he would concentrate on “keeping out of the way” and they were obviously both doing that. But what playing. Rohan was great and impressed with classically trained precision and that bowing skill. Jonathan’s just a star. He’s a big man who looks comfortable and plays with eminent solidity and strength on the big bass, with a massive tone and a bell-like clarity of intent. His solo to end the night just floored me.

So, it was a loose night, but with some excellent playing that would go down anywhere. In the Loft, in Canberra, for an audience of a few dozen afficionadoes. What skills and art this is. A blowout. John Mackey (tenor) led a sextet with Matt Handel (alto), Andy Butler (piano), Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums). Max Alduca (bass) replaced Jonathan and Rohan for Oleo.

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