by Ian Mann
March 01, 2023
Pope's rapport with Garner is exceptional and the range of sounds that the pair manage to generate from just the eight strings of double bass and violin is nothing less than extraordinary.
John Pope and John Garner
(New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings NEWJAiM14)
John Pope – double bass, percussion
John Garner – violin, percussion
A slightly belated review for this duo recording from bassist John Pope and violinist John Garner, two musicians based in the North East of England.
Released in November 2022 on the Newcastle based New Jazz and Improvised Music imprint the album takes inspiration from the legacy of the duo’s musical heroes and features a selection of compositions by some of the leading figures of the jazz avant garde, among them Ornette Coleman, Misha Mengelberg, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton, Alice Coltrane and Carla Bley. The album takes its title from a composition written by Ayler and his wife Mary Parks.
The duo’s album notes express the spirit of the music;
“We would like to dedicate this work to all the artists who use their voices and their music to stand in resistance to tyranny, exploitation and greed. The composers and architects of this music have given us great gifts, daring to imagine other ways of being in the world. We thank them for their generosity and celebrate their spirits”.
Pope has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of his own quintet, a band that issued the excellent album “Mixed With Glass” on the NEWJAiM imprint in early 2021. Review here;
In November 2022 I was privileged to witness a live performance by the quintet in Birmingham as part of a double bill also featuring the Faith Brackenbury / Tony Bianco duo. Review here;
A player of both acoustic and electric bass Pope is also involved with a number of other projects . Alongside drummer Christian Alderson he and saxophonist Faye MacCalman form two thirds of the electro-jazz trio Archipelago. The group’s latest recording “Echoes To The Sky” (2021) also appears on NEWJAiM and is reviewed here;
Liber Musika is a project in which Pope explores the music of such AACM associated jazz composer / improvisers as Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell.
Cartoon is a trio which teams him with the more senior figures of Chris Biscoe (reeds) and Roger Turner (drums, percussion). He has also recorded as a duo with Biscoe, this occasioned by Turner’s temporary absence due to illness.
Meanwhile Pope and MacCalman also work in an improvising trio with laptop artist Shelly Knotts, with whom they recorded the digital album “No Bones”.
Pope’s increasing commitment to improvisation has also seen him performing with an impressive range of British and international collaborators, among them saxophonists Evan Parker, Tony Bevan and Cath Roberts, multi-instrumentalists Joe McPhee and Mick Beck, harpist Rhodri Davies, pianist Alexander Hawkins, guitarist Anton Hunter and drummers Paul Hession and Han Bennink.
Released by NEWJAiM in 2021 “The King’s Hall Concert” features Pope as a member of the trio Telemaque, alongside McPhee and Hession. Review here;
Further information on Pope’s diverse range of musical activities can be found at his website https://www.johnpopebass.co.uk/
“Water Music” follows three earlier digital releases from the Pope / Garner duo, including the improvised “Genteel Eschaton” (2020) and “House Of Splinters” (2021). “The Fourth Moment” also from 2021, is based on the writings of the author and spiritual teacher Andrew Holecek.
I’ll admit to knowing rather less about John Garner but a visit to his website reveals that he is a busy and highly versatile musician who works right across the musical spectrum, from classical to jazz to session work. His discography is impressively diverse and includes a number of releases that he describes as being ‘left field’, a good term to his output as a whole. His jazz credentials include work with pianist Kate Williams, vocalist Georgia Mancio and guitarist Tobie Carpenter. Further information on Garner’s full range of musical activities can be found at http://www.johngarner.co.uk
The album commences with “Newswatch”, co-written by Jeanne Lee and Perry Robinson. Plucked double bass and pizzicato violin combine on the introduction before Garner picks up the bow to sketch the melody, his playing becoming increasingly impassioned as the piece progresses, soaring up into the atmosphere and exploring the full range of the violin’s sonic capabilities. Pope continues to provide a commendably robust rhythmic undertow. An excellent start.
Pope’s quintet was initially inspired by the music of Ornette Coleman so it comes as no surprise to find one of Coleman’s tunes here. The duo clearly relish their playful romp through Ornette’s “Congeniality”, sharing and exchanging ideas with aplomb.
Another of Pope’s musical heroes is the late Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017), founder of the Instant Composers Pool. The duo tackle the complexities of Mengelberg’s “Hypoxmastreefuzz” with great élan with Pope’s muscular bass lines underpinning Garner’s vivacious, virtuoso bowing.
The mood darkens on the title track, an abstract ballad from Ayler’s last recording session. The introduction features grainy arco bass contrasted with almost impossibly high register pizzicato violin. It’s highly atmospheric and effective and the haunting mood continues even when Garner picks up his bow as Pope puts his down. The music continues to ebb and flow, building momentum, with some more remarkable violin playing from Garner and with a dash of percussion added to the mix. The piece concludes with the sounds of Pope’s pizzicato bass, plus a faint smattering of percussion.
Things brighten up again on the classic Don Cherry tune “Mopti”, a joyous slice of ‘world jazz’ propelled by Pope’s driving bass lines and featuring Garner’s swirling, folk derived violin melodies.
Anthony Braxton’s technically challenging “Composition 40 – F” features the precise bowing of both musicians and is the most obviously ‘academic’ piece on the album. It also includes pizzicato sounds and the use of extended techniques.
Carla Bley’s “Egyptian” is typically quirky and engaging and again features a mix of bowed and plucked sounds, including a lengthy passage featuring both musicians playing pizzicato. There’s also some stunning high register bowing from Garner, plus a smattering of percussive sounds.
At nine minutes duration Alice Coltrane’s “Galaxy In Satchidananda” is easily the lengthiest item on the album. It features the sounds of various items of small percussion allied to the remarkable pizzicato sounds of Garner’s violin and later the eerie drone of arco bass. Garner’s work with the bow is no less astonishing than his pizzicato playing, again reaching into the violin’s upper registers to create a sound that some commentators have described as being “theremin-like”.
The album concludes with “Ascendant”, written by former Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison, who played with both John and Alice. Appropriately its introduced by an extended unaccompanied pizzicato passage from Pope, who demonstrates his extraordinary capabilities as a double bass soloist. Garner then enters the proceedings, helping to bring a genuinely celebratory feel to the piece, his violin swooping and soaring above Pope’s highly mobile bass lines.
Having enjoyed seeing and hearing Pope’s playing in other contexts I’m pleased to report that I also enjoyed hearing his work in this more exposed duo format. Although he’s a powerful and very physical player he’s also supremely dexterous and also capable of considerable subtlety. His rapport with Garner is exceptional and the range of sounds that the pair manage to generate from just the eight strings of double bass and violin is nothing less than extraordinary. With Pope anchoring the music from the bass the sound is remarkably full and surprisingly varied, with Garner a vivacious and inventive presence throughout. His playing is often quite astonishing, both with and without the bow.
When I first received this album I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it. A whole album of double bass / violin improvisations could possibly have become hard going but the duo’s decision to improvise around existing compositions has proved to be the right one and I found “Water Music” to be surprisingly and pleasingly accessible, even though the programme is comprised entirely of pieces generally regarded to be ‘avant garde’.
Reviewing the album for Jazzwise magazine Daniel Spicer suggested that these pieces would sound even better if played by a full band but although he makes a valid point they still stand up in this duo context and “Water Music” succeeds on its own merits.
On a personal note I’d like to see a John Pope double bill with a set from this duo followed by a performance from the quintet, possibly with a guest slot found for Garner. A physically demanding challenge for Pope, but I reckon he’d be up to it, and up for it.
“Water Music” is available here;
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