by Ian Mann
January 21, 2022
Darkly and weirdly beautiful and strangely compelling. It’s a densely atmospheric record, the darkness and melancholy of much of the music reflecting the strange times in which it was created.
“The Gift of Silence”
(Discus Music – Discus 125CD)
Michael Bardon – double bass, cello
Michael Bardon was born In Northern Ireland in 1986 but has been based in Leeds since 2007, the year in which he commenced his studies on the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music. He graduated with Honours in 2010 and has since become a significant presence on the UK jazz and improv scene, particularly in the North of England.
Among those with whom he has worked are saxophonist Nat Birchall, pianist Matthew Bourne, drummer Johnny Hunter, percussionist Hassan Erraji, fellow bassist Dave Kane and singer, songwriter and actress Keeley Forsyth.
He has been a member of saxophonist James Mainwaring’s Tipping Point quartet and of drummer / vocalist Sean Noonan’s band Pavee’s Dance. He has worked regularly with guitarist Craig Scott’s Lobotomy and Gastric Band groups and also with the collaborative bands Shatner’s Bassoon and Stoop Quintet.
I know Bardon’s playing best from his appearances at the Queens Head in Monmouth where he has regularly performed as part of a freely improvising trio alongside German saxophonist Hans Peter Hiby and drummer Paul Hession. He has also visited the venue as a member of the Nat Birchall Quintet.
I have also reviewed recordings on which Bardon appears, notably Tipping Point’s 2015 début “The Earthworm’s Eye View” and Johnny Hunter’s 2020 release “Pale Blue Dot” (on which Bardon plays cello). He also appears on the compilation album “Live at LUME Vol. 3”, on which he appears as a member of Craig Scott’s Gastric Band.
Bardon enjoys a particularly close musical relationship with Hession and the pair also feature alongside former trioVD saxophonist Christophe de Bezenac in the trio Jaktar.
“The Gift of Silence” is a totally solo recording that represents Bardon’s ‘lockdown’ album. It was recorded at home during July 2020 and explores the acoustic and electric possibilities of the double bass and cello. Bardon dedicates the recording to his young daughter Yumi, who was born in April 2020.
Bardon’s album liner notes describe his working methods thus;
“All pieces are derived from improvisations experimenting with extended techniques / prepared bass microtonality and Harry Partch’s 11-Limit tonality diamond tuning system, overdubbing and long formless melodies”.
The press release accompanying the album also references the use of “DIY effects pedals and synthesisers”.
The ten pieces improvised / composed and performed by Bardon were subsequently mixed and mastered by guitarist and general sound guru Chris Sharkey.
The album appears on the Sheffield based Discus Music imprint, founded in 1994 by saxophonist Martin Archer. The label is a bastion of jazz and experimental music in the UK, and particularly in the North of England.
With regard to this specific release Archer notes;
“Discus Music recalls that in the 1970s and 1980s solo bass albums were relatively common. Today they are a rarity, and we are delighted to make a contribution to that tradition”.
I can certainly remember the prestigious ECM label, founded by producer and former classical double bassist Manfred Eicher, issuing a number of solo bass releases by artists such as Dave Holland, Barre Phillips, Miroslav Vitous and Eberhard Weber. It may even be that the album title is a subtle nod to ECM and their one time advertising slogan “the most beautiful sound next to silence”.
Inevitably Bardon’s album, recorded with the use of contemporary musical technology, sounds very different to any of these, but still represents the continuation of a venerable tradition.
The new album commences with the eerie arco drones of “Realignment”, which sees Bardon making effective use of the technology at his disposal to layer his sound, enabling him to create dark, sepulchral, doomy textures. We are into seriously deep sonic territory here.
“Pitter Patter” takes us into the realms of extended bass techniques. This aptly named piece features the sounds of the strings being struck by the bow to create percussive effects and also introduces an element of wilful dissonance during the (relatively) more conventional arco sections.
“Springs” evolves slowly, emerging from the sounds of almost subliminal bowing. Deep, melancholic arco sonorities are again the order of the day, together with an eerie dissonance. There is often a sense of being deep underground, lost in the forest at night or on the bed of the ocean about this often saturnine music.
The emphasis shifts to pizzicato techniques at the start of “F#C#A#D”, before the plucked patterns that Bardon has created are transferred to the bow, becoming increasingly complex as the piece unfolds. There’s the suggestion of the influence of minimalism in the repeated patterns, alongside the now familiar melancholy and dissonance, with Bardon frantically sawing at the strings at one juncture.
The title of “Partched” references the influence of Harry Partch (1901-74), the American composer, musical theorist and builder of musical instruments, who was also a significant influence on Tom Waits. Here furtive, semi percussive shuffling punctuates grandiose organ like arco drones as Bardon creates a one man ‘cathedral of sound’.
Despite the apparent innocence of the title “Etude” is perhaps the most extreme track on the record as Bardon attacks his instrument with an almost punk like violence and aggression, brandishing his bow like a weapon of war.
“CTS” deploys similar techniques to the earlier “Pitter Patter”, with the strings again being struck percussively, the pizzicato rhythms entwined with similarly rhythmic arco patterns to create a lattice of sound that again suggests the influence of the Minimalists.
“Dormancy” marks a return to the deep sonics of the opener, murky arco drones punctuated rumbling percussive noises and sounds that are sometimes eerily akin to the human voice. There’s a subterranean, dystopian feel to the music here.
The haunting “What Do You Want To Become?” is lighter in feel, but only relatively so. The piece is still shot through with melancholy, although it subsequently attains a degree of grandiosity. I’d surmise that a mix of cello and double bass sounds are deployed here.
The closing “Doom II” combines grainy low register arco sounds with a soupçon of electronic embellishment to create a darkly atmospheric piece that is worthy of its title. The pace is almost funereal, sounding like the creaking and cracking of a glacier inching its way forward.
I found the music on “The Gift of Silence” to be darkly and weirdly beautiful and strangely compelling. Bardon, assisted by Sharkey’s post production, conjures a fascinating array of sounds from his instruments with the emphasis mainly on his work with bow. It’s a densely atmospheric record, the darkness and melancholy of much of the music reflecting the strange times in which it was created.
It’s not an album that will suit everybody and perhaps not a recording that you would wish to listen to too often, but it does have its own unique character with Bardon emerging as an improviser and composer with a singular vision. Financially supported by the Arts Council of England the album is a worthy addition to the adventurous Discus Music catalogue.
From Felix Jay via Facebook;
It’s always good when a perceptive reviewer meets an interesting recording!
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