F. Vattel Cherry: Bassrespänse
For a man without any sort of recording contract, Baltimore-based double-bassist Vattel Cherry sure is showing up on a lot of shiny silver discs lately. On the heels of the wonderful self-titled debut/swan song of the local avant-jazz quartet Krill (on the Washington-based Mass Particles label) and his own self-released CD of duets, For Those Who Heal, both released last year, come two new discs featuring Cherry's far-ranging and passionate improvisation. Bassrespänse (Owlsong) is the full-length debut of Cherry's all-double-bass quartet of that name. (Disclosure: Bassrespänse contributed a track to City Paper's God Bless the Child: A Baltimore Tribute to Billie Holiday CD last year.) Cherry also performs with a former Baltimorean/current New Yorker, drummer Jeff Arnal, as part of a trio with Big Apple-based alto saxophonist Blaise Siwula on Badlands (Cadence Jazz).
Unless you're a big improvisation fan or a bassist or both, a 68-minute recording of four stand-up specialists working out their low-end theories probably sounds like more bass than you really need. That said, even given their instrumental solidarity and tonal range, Cherry and his Bassrespänse collaborators Alan Lewine, Jane Wang, and David Kazcorowski still manage to uncover surprisingly vast frontiers. Lewine's opening "Lisofall" plays off of the standard jazz head-solos-restatement form in a long, stately piece that allows each player to introduce him- or herself. (The liner notes provide a key for keeping track of which player sits where in the mix, but it's still a bit difficult to keep track of who's who without devoted attention.) Wang's "Waltz for Four Basses" offers an opportunity to flex arco and ensemble-playing skills. The percussive break in Kazcorowski's "99 Shorescapes" lets the players get rhythmic, and Cherry's tone poem "Baltimore Weather" is the disc's moody, ever-shifting highlight. The foursome welcomes guest spoken-word artist Marjani Dele on "Louis Devereaux" and a two-man saxophone section on the closing "Z.C.P.," though this much bass ultimately stands as its own rewards.
Cherry's powerful playing is subsumed somewhat on Badlands, but for a different reason than with the unified-bass front of Bassrespänse. Half of the disc's 10 cuts are shortish (1:51 to 4:40) Siwula solos, wherein he shows off an agile musical mind, a hard-edged alto attack, and a ferocious vibrato. On the five lengthy free-improvised trio tracks, Cherry's instrument gets the worst of it in the roomy, live-sounding mix, though he dives through into a clear spot during the 20-minute "Freedom in Wind" and makes every second count.