British bass titan Paul Rogers with a second album of solo improvisations.
Peter Marsh 2002
Paul Rogers should be well known to anyone with even a passing interest in British free jazz. His ability to swing hard, sing sweetly and get down, dirty and abstract has made him bassist of choice for top improvisers like Evan Parker, John Stevens and Keith Tippett. Listen is his second solo bass record and features two sessions recorded ten years apart, from 1989 and 99.
Solo bass records are, it should be said, an acquired taste. There's an old joke about a marriage guidance counsellor who manages to get uncommunicative couples talking to each other in his sessions by playing Charlie Mingus records, in the belief that no-one can keep quiet during a bass solo. No-one told the audiences here though, who let out barely a cough as Rogers negotiates his way through these stunning performances.
Rogers' vocabulary is huge and his facility pretty incredible. The 38 minute Listen 99 opens with a blistering display of pizzicato playing before moving though soft harmonic ripples, bowed drones and episodes of scratchy abstraction, returning to just fingers and strings for lengthy, sometimes bluesy solos where he worries away at little phrases, repeating, embellishing and eventually dismantling them before moving on. Occasionally he plays whistles, cymbals and drums for extra colouration (part 3 of the 99 gig is pure texture), but it's the note based stuff (reminiscent of Barre Phillips at times and undoubtedly drawing from 'jazz' harmony) that really sticks. His tone is rich, punchy and resonant, and the lovely recording gives the bass a warm, physical presence that still has ambience.
The 19 minute solo from '89 is more in classic free improv mode. Though there are some sweet moments, there's a much more episodic feel than the later material, which has a beautifully rounded shape to its structure, almost compositional in its precision and economy.
Aside from its potential for therapeutic use as discussed above, Listen is a tour de force of the first order; highly recommended to any fan of solo bass, but for those who simply enjoy hearing a master improviser at work, there's much to savour here.
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