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The "Godfather" of San Diego contrabass, Bert Turetzky played at 98 Bottles last night, with his chamber ensemble featuring wife Nancy Turetzky on flutes, Alyze Dreiling Hammer on violin, Francesca Savage on viola, and Lorie Kirkell on cello, playing the music of tango master Astor Piazzolla.

Turetzky has always loved chamber ensembles, because they play "What they love to play, as opposed to orchestra work, where somebody else tells you what to play," said the bassist during a moment between pieces.

Turetzky wrote the book on contrabass virtuosity...literally. His 1974 treatise on extended bass technique "The Contemporary Contrabass," remains the definitive compendium on the subject. With all of his virtuosic experience, Turetzky still enjoys playing music that doesn't feature the bass in a primary role. He seems to have no ego in that regard--rather, he plays music that he wants to hear.

To that end, Turetzky led off the evening with a too short bass intro to "Libertango," soon dropping back to pedal the tango heartbeat of 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2, while the flute and violin laced an interwoven theme over the interlocking patterns of the bass, cello and viola.

Turetzky told stories about Piazzolla between numbers, always filled with funny insights and inside information which served as a reminder that he is also a noted music historian. This cat is more informative than Wikipedia, and twice as entertaining.

"Novi Tango," was next, and once again, violin and flute outlined the melody, this time, supported by a kind of modal harmonizing from cello and viola.

Piazolla's "Oblivion," followed. It's one of the composer's most cherished pieces, and it's easy to see why. It's got a gorgeous, almost heartbreaking melody--and when the strings and flute wound their way through it--one could imagine the slow, romantic choreography of star-crossed lovers.

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Other highlights included the lush harmonies of "Milanga del Angel," and "Resurrection," a piece that showcased the delicious vibrato of cellist Kirkell, who's perfectly pitched glissandi deserved special recognition.

Each member of the ensemble got their chance to shine, and all of them have a sumptuous acoustic tone which they blended together without benefit of microphones. 98 Bottles has made some sound improvements to the room, (heavy curtains along the intersecting cinder- block walls) and the air conditioning was turned off, which aided the presentation of this delicate music immensely.

After a short intermission, the ensemble returned with "Undertango," which pulsed forward on the strength of Turetzky's bowed quarter-notes, supporting a theme that was cinematic in nature. The episodic melodic variations were perhaps evocative of the sites that might flash by your eyes on the subway--long stretches of light and shadow.

The flute and cello alternated soaring melodies over dark string textures, cutting right though the winter air on the composer's "Andante In A Minor," and Piazzolla's admiration of Bela Bartok was apparent in the spiky harmonies and dissonant glissandi of "Fuga," an intense exploration of darker emotions.

Turetzky told me some months ago that his goal in bringing chamber music downtown was simple: "play some beautiful music."

Mission accomplished.

Photos by Tom Harten

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