REVIEW: Bernd Klug, 'Cold Commodities' (Innova)

By Jon Sobel on Sep 18, 2014 09:05 PM EDT

On Cold Commodities, double bassist Bernd Klug's new album on Innova Records, you don't hear anything that sounds like a bass until almost two minutes into the first track. Perhaps that's not surprising from a composer who has made performances piece by standing basses in a room and not physically playing them, merely playing with the emanations from their electric pickups.

That opening number, "A Male Black Wearing White, Red and Black Stripes," sounds mostly like radio noise, engines, and maybe power tools. Police transmissions captured during the recording give the piece its thematic resonance (and its title). Its electronic character suits its status as the only piece on the disc played (if "play" is the right verb) on an electric bass.

The rest of the 12 pieces rumble and reverberate through the infinite possibilities an unorthodox composer-performer can draw from the double bass in a universe of sound-recording technologies. Bernd pairs his bass with a series of "guest artists" such as the CPU of his recording device, a sonified satellite dish and "my neighbor's Mexican music." Amid the resulting, sometimes dynamic, sometimes ambient musique concrète-like thrums of "found sound," traditional musicality pokes its head above water only now and then, as in the one-minute "What Is This Thing Called Jazz" and the bitter sawing of "Suffering with Mexican Music."

Titles like "Spaces Within a 1-Bedroom Apartment," "Abandoned Satellite Dishes 2" and "Piezotrip" tell the real story of this eclectic project, recorded by the Austrian composer in a Brooklyn apartment. These mostly concise statements depict a fertile mind at work, freed of the constraints of pop, jazz and classical styles and indeed of anything one normally thinks of as "musical." Names like Cage, Oliveros and Stockhausen flit into and out of my brain as I listen, but Bernd Klug--even his name sounds like one of his pieces--swims his own route as he rides his whale of an instrument.

Perhaps the piece with the most dramatic narrative is "All the Things I Don't Know That My Mother Is." This mini-suite opens with staccato clatter and transitions through a tense duet between low notes and high-struck strings, into a deep song heard as if from a wet distance, then builds to a frenetic conclusion, with a pained sigh for a coda.

By contrast, "Rauschgespraech" is more of a slice-of-life score, with sinister-sounding hisses battling an animated but incomprehensible conversation (presumably captured through the composer's window) and sounding as if a slinking monster were stalking the unsuspecting men on the street.

Klug knows how to make the spaces and frequencies of the double bass ring out in novel and non-traditional but expressive ways. The longest piece, "Traces Within a 1-Bedroom Apartment," is also, on one level, the most monotonous, as Klug repeatedly bows single notes, tracing their sonorities from bass to alto, minor to major, tonal to atonal, clean to feedback-y, even slipping into what sounds like a riff on the Jaws theme. It's a nine-minute journey through the possibilities, and the possibilities seem endless.

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TagsBernd Klug, double bass, acoustic bass, bass viol, bass, Innova

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