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Conference of the Contrabasses

For aficionados of the contrabass, Dizzy's was the only place to be on Oct. 9. The Fourth Annual Bass Summit gathered nine of the county's most valuable bassists for a wildly ambitious and diverse celebration of the instrument.

In support of the multiple bass men and women, Duncan Moore manned the drum kit and award winning Joshua White handled the piano. Some of the bassists brought their own accompanists for their personal features.

The deep talent pool of San Diego contrabass is indelibly inspired by one man's influence: Bertram Turetzky. At one time or another, Turetzky has provided valued mentorship to every one of the performers save symphony bassists Susan Wulff and Jory Herman.

Image

The concert began with all nine participants crowding the stage. Dizzy's was packed solid for this event —standing room only, shoulder to shoulder for the first set.

A Turetzky original, "Meditations & Dreams" was first, the master opening with a slow pizzicato over a chorus of drawn, beautifully spaced arco voices, with Mark Dresser in the lead, playing wicked harmonics, while Jory Herman elicited weird synthesizer-type effects by rattling the frog of his bow between two strings.

Gunnar Biggs got the first spotlight with White and Moore in tow, playing an original tune, "Where You From?" Biggs swung, old-school style, with big, meaty notes and periods of strumming pedal points. White opened with a Herbie Hancock-ish solo that raised the amazement quotient geometrically. Next, White and Moore left the stage, and, a banjo player emerged! Biggs explained that "Americana" music was a new passion-- he and Jason Weiss then proceeded to tear things up with some inspired "picking." Weiss is no slouch on the banjo and the interplay between the two was out of the box, for sure.

Turetzky brought his 11-year-old protégé, Noah Bailyn out for two classical pieces. The first was transposed from a cello duet by the 19th-century composer Romberg and it featured young Bailyn wowing the audience with his sure fingered virtuosity. The second was a Jewish prayer by Ernst Bloch, and, with Turetzky supporting from the piano, sounded even better.

Marshall Hawkins had the next spot with the aid of White and Moore. Hawkins has arrived at a stage in his development where all the extraneous accoutrements of the unnecessary have been peeled away--all that remains is the purity of spontaneous expression. In that pursuit, he has found a natural partner in White--they breathe music together. There was a delicious ebb and flow between the two with Moore acting as a colorist for a deep and complete exploration of "Beautiful Love."

Image

Turetzky brought his wife Nancy, a classical flute virtuoso to the stage and they played "Rated X," by Walter Ross, with an uncanny sense of balance. Nancy's flute led the way, peeking around corners, while Bert brought up the rear with huge arco lines that finished every thought. Turetzky uses the bow like Picasso used the brush--to create magic.

In another standout moment, Dresser, and two bassists from the San Diego Symphony, Jory Herman and Susan Wulff, joined for a reading of "SLM," a Dresser original from his Deep Tones For Peace series.

It began with three basses droning the same bowed note, with Dresser gradually adding tension while the rapidity of the other's bow-strokes increased. Each player then echoed a phrase by the other, all of them ending in a violent smack of the strings. Eventually there were dark harmonies supporting brief plucked forays by the composer. Wulff and Herman got the chance to showcase themselves as individuals--each of them has a unique timbre and flawless intonation.

After a short intermission, Dresser, Biggs, Herman and Wulff played a piece written in the 1400s by Josquin des Prez, "Pauperum Refugio." In their hands, the 600 year old composition sounded modern and alive.

Another dramatic experience unfolded when Evona Wascinski brought guitarist Lorraine Castellanos and tap-dancer Claudia Gomez-Vorce to the stage to perform Juan Serrano's "Tempestad." Wascinski led off with a long, seemingly improvised bowed cadenza. She's got a strong, dark sound, deeply resonant with spot-on pitch. Suddenly Castellanos' guitar entered and the two string players laid down the Spanish-styled theme over the clickety-clacking castanet rhythms of Gomez-Vorce's taps. Toward the end, the tap-dancer took over with a very intricate solo that brought the house down. Wascinski is emerging as a major voice of San Diego doublebass--she and Wulff have effectively dispelled any misplaced notions that women are somehow too "delicate" to play the instrument.

Speaking of Wulff, she and Jory Herman were next, playing seven short duets. All of them featured a nice mix of unison and more contrapuntal material. "Rush Hour" was the best piece, very frantic with each player bowing a dissonant cluster imitating the sound of car horns honking. They finished with a blues, and both musician's did themselves proud with slurring, strutting iterations on the form.

Wulff's husband, the internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso Geoffrey Keezer, joined the bassist for a dramatic reading of an original written for her. The piece had a strong Chick Corea kind of feel to it, with long, intricate skeins of surging melodic unisons pulsing throughout. Wulff raced along with Keezer, playing with a muscular pizzicato that pumped up the excitement factor.

Classical bassist Jory Herman's feature paired him with the remarkable symphony violinist Jing Yan on what he described as an "impossible-duet." That description proved appropriate as the two string masters locked into a high-wire act of intricate give and take--and astonishing pyrotechnics. The pure tones of both players--piercing and fulsome never faltered throughout the exhausting tour-de-force.

In an evening filled with highlight moments, Mark Dresser and Joshua White literally blew the roof off with a spontaneous improvised duet. Dresser began with probing plucked lines that gradually began to include some of his trademarked "extended-techniques" like two-handed tapping and double-glissandi. White entered by hammering a single note with the rapidity of a an angry telegraph-operator--before both hands erupted into a delicious display of serpentine, clangorous polyphony. Dresser responded by slapping the strings with both hands, ratcheting up the tension and firing the cauldron.

Bass Summit organizer Rob Thorsen passed on the opportunity to showcase his own considerable skills to make room for the others. Thorsen only appeared in the opening and closing nine-bass collectives, but he introduced each musician with obvious appreciation.

All nine bassists plus White and Moore returned for the finale, a romp on Ray Brown's "Blues In The Bassment," arranged by LA bandleader John Clayton.

Bass Summit IV only faltered in one respect : factoring in the stamina of the audience. There was just so much to take in. Some people left after the first set, which made it more comfortable for those who stayed, allowing the standing to finally find a seat. Although it might be possible to trim the presentation down a bit, each minute of this massive and joyous celebration of the contrabass provided its own reward.

Rehearsal photo by Joshua White; Performance photo by Jing Yan

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For aficionados of the contrabass, Dizzy's was the only place to be on Oct. 9. The Fourth Annual Bass Summit gathered nine of the county's most valuable bassists for a wildly ambitious and diverse celebration of the instrument.

In support of the multiple bass men and women, Duncan Moore manned the drum kit and award winning Joshua White handled the piano. Some of the bassists brought their own accompanists for their personal features.

The deep talent pool of San Diego contrabass is indelibly inspired by one man's influence: Bertram Turetzky. At one time or another, Turetzky has provided valued mentorship to every one of the performers save symphony bassists Susan Wulff and Jory Herman.

Image

The concert began with all nine participants crowding the stage. Dizzy's was packed solid for this event —standing room only, shoulder to shoulder for the first set.

A Turetzky original, "Meditations & Dreams" was first, the master opening with a slow pizzicato over a chorus of drawn, beautifully spaced arco voices, with Mark Dresser in the lead, playing wicked harmonics, while Jory Herman elicited weird synthesizer-type effects by rattling the frog of his bow between two strings.

Gunnar Biggs got the first spotlight with White and Moore in tow, playing an original tune, "Where You From?" Biggs swung, old-school style, with big, meaty notes and periods of strumming pedal points. White opened with a Herbie Hancock-ish solo that raised the amazement quotient geometrically. Next, White and Moore left the stage, and, a banjo player emerged! Biggs explained that "Americana" music was a new passion-- he and Jason Weiss then proceeded to tear things up with some inspired "picking." Weiss is no slouch on the banjo and the interplay between the two was out of the box, for sure.

Turetzky brought his 11-year-old protégé, Noah Bailyn out for two classical pieces. The first was transposed from a cello duet by the 19th-century composer Romberg and it featured young Bailyn wowing the audience with his sure fingered virtuosity. The second was a Jewish prayer by Ernst Bloch, and, with Turetzky supporting from the piano, sounded even better.

Marshall Hawkins had the next spot with the aid of White and Moore. Hawkins has arrived at a stage in his development where all the extraneous accoutrements of the unnecessary have been peeled away--all that remains is the purity of spontaneous expression. In that pursuit, he has found a natural partner in White--they breathe music together. There was a delicious ebb and flow between the two with Moore acting as a colorist for a deep and complete exploration of "Beautiful Love."

Image

Turetzky brought his wife Nancy, a classical flute virtuoso to the stage and they played "Rated X," by Walter Ross, with an uncanny sense of balance. Nancy's flute led the way, peeking around corners, while Bert brought up the rear with huge arco lines that finished every thought. Turetzky uses the bow like Picasso used the brush--to create magic.

In another standout moment, Dresser, and two bassists from the San Diego Symphony, Jory Herman and Susan Wulff, joined for a reading of "SLM," a Dresser original from his Deep Tones For Peace series.

It began with three basses droning the same bowed note, with Dresser gradually adding tension while the rapidity of the other's bow-strokes increased. Each player then echoed a phrase by the other, all of them ending in a violent smack of the strings. Eventually there were dark harmonies supporting brief plucked forays by the composer. Wulff and Herman got the chance to showcase themselves as individuals--each of them has a unique timbre and flawless intonation.

After a short intermission, Dresser, Biggs, Herman and Wulff played a piece written in the 1400s by Josquin des Prez, "Pauperum Refugio." In their hands, the 600 year old composition sounded modern and alive.

Another dramatic experience unfolded when Evona Wascinski brought guitarist Lorraine Castellanos and tap-dancer Claudia Gomez-Vorce to the stage to perform Juan Serrano's "Tempestad." Wascinski led off with a long, seemingly improvised bowed cadenza. She's got a strong, dark sound, deeply resonant with spot-on pitch. Suddenly Castellanos' guitar entered and the two string players laid down the Spanish-styled theme over the clickety-clacking castanet rhythms of Gomez-Vorce's taps. Toward the end, the tap-dancer took over with a very intricate solo that brought the house down. Wascinski is emerging as a major voice of San Diego doublebass--she and Wulff have effectively dispelled any misplaced notions that women are somehow too "delicate" to play the instrument.

Speaking of Wulff, she and Jory Herman were next, playing seven short duets. All of them featured a nice mix of unison and more contrapuntal material. "Rush Hour" was the best piece, very frantic with each player bowing a dissonant cluster imitating the sound of car horns honking. They finished with a blues, and both musician's did themselves proud with slurring, strutting iterations on the form.

Wulff's husband, the internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso Geoffrey Keezer, joined the bassist for a dramatic reading of an original written for her. The piece had a strong Chick Corea kind of feel to it, with long, intricate skeins of surging melodic unisons pulsing throughout. Wulff raced along with Keezer, playing with a muscular pizzicato that pumped up the excitement factor.

Classical bassist Jory Herman's feature paired him with the remarkable symphony violinist Jing Yan on what he described as an "impossible-duet." That description proved appropriate as the two string masters locked into a high-wire act of intricate give and take--and astonishing pyrotechnics. The pure tones of both players--piercing and fulsome never faltered throughout the exhausting tour-de-force.

In an evening filled with highlight moments, Mark Dresser and Joshua White literally blew the roof off with a spontaneous improvised duet. Dresser began with probing plucked lines that gradually began to include some of his trademarked "extended-techniques" like two-handed tapping and double-glissandi. White entered by hammering a single note with the rapidity of a an angry telegraph-operator--before both hands erupted into a delicious display of serpentine, clangorous polyphony. Dresser responded by slapping the strings with both hands, ratcheting up the tension and firing the cauldron.

Bass Summit organizer Rob Thorsen passed on the opportunity to showcase his own considerable skills to make room for the others. Thorsen only appeared in the opening and closing nine-bass collectives, but he introduced each musician with obvious appreciation.

All nine bassists plus White and Moore returned for the finale, a romp on Ray Brown's "Blues In The Bassment," arranged by LA bandleader John Clayton.

Bass Summit IV only faltered in one respect : factoring in the stamina of the audience. There was just so much to take in. Some people left after the first set, which made it more comfortable for those who stayed, allowing the standing to finally find a seat. Although it might be possible to trim the presentation down a bit, each minute of this massive and joyous celebration of the contrabass provided its own reward.

Rehearsal photo by Joshua White; Performance photo by Jing Yan

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