A popular performance concept is to gather top musicians of one particular instrument and have them play off each other in a live or studio setting. The final results can be a bit too monochromatic, as the hyper-focusing restricts broader sounds, and can rob songs of their aural diversity, making it tough for mainstream jazz fans to digest.
This is admittedly a generalization, but unlike the piano, the range of the double bass is more limited, since it was designed as a supporting instrument of the rhythm section, and when placed up front, it requires a skilled musician to exceed the instrument's physical limitations, and create a balance between tones, textures, and clarity for the melodic material.
The three bassists assembled for this 2005 performance – Arni Egilsson, Niels-Henning Oersted Petersen, and Wayne Darling – manage to transcend those confines, though part of their success comes from the discreet but involved support from drummer John Hollenbeck, and pianist Fritz Pauer.
Cuts like “Whoopie Do-Whoopie Don't” are a great mix of resonance, rhythm, and nuances, and exemplify some of the marvelous colours that can be achieved when the double bass is played by a virtuoso. Multiplied by three, and you get distinct performance styles that further colour the DVD's 10 pieces.
“Whoopie,” for example, shifts from a groovy intro from Arni Egilsson to an un-metered break, with atmospheric tinkling from the percussionist, and Egilsson switching from fingers to bow. The tune kicks back into gear, and Nils Pedersen is captured by the cameras as he renders his own solo. It's a significant point early into the concert because the cameras capture the intense physicality of the huge instrument, and the musician's need to involve so much of the upper body to render a multitude of notes.
Drummer Hollenbeck also gets a lengthy moment for a beautiful solo with drum sticks and a bare hand, and one sees how one musician can swirl up and boost the onstage energy level, and inspire the next soloist to take it even further. In the case of “Whoopie,” it ends after the drum solo (a pity, because it's a piece that could easily have gone on for another stretch with the pianist and bassist Wayne Darling contributing their own solos), but the short piece sets up the funky atmosphere of the hour-long concert.
The evening's pieces are individually captioned (noting the soloist), and while most of the audience announcements have been more or less excised (a bit too abruptly, sometimes right in the midst of audience applause), a few have been retained, including Wayne Darling's cheeky intro to “Unfinished Business.”
Darling's solo performance shows off some beautiful tonal shades, plus his own scat singling; the effect delights the audience, and causes Darling to emphasize some strong moments of vibrato on the bass, and vocals that shift from slow & easy to a few sudden shrieks. It's all in good fun, and the cameras also focus on Darling's fingering which produces some extended, marvelously sinewy notes.
The DVD features a stable colour balance from the PAL to NTSC conversion, and while some long and wide shots are a bit soft in focus, the concert's orange-red and blue tinted lighting scheme is well-balanced.
One note of caution is the stereo 2.0 audio, which has audible distortion beginning from the third indexed track. It's unclear whether it's from a mixing board problem, a bad mike placement, or originates with the master edit, but there are distinct moments when the audio fuzzes with noise from specific tone hits and volume levels, adversely affecting an otherwise excellent concert by three top bass players. (This problem is also audible in the excerpt of a Louis Armstrong doc, extracted in the DVD's Quantum Leap trailer gallery. None of the other trailers , however, are affected with the same distortion.)
The DVD's extras include a very short collection of interviews with Arni Egilsson (commenting on writing music for three string basses, the odd investment that began his musical career with the bass, working with the Iceland Symphony, and playing jazz); Wayne Darling (whose own bass debut actually began on the tuba with the Count Basie Orchestra, but shifted to string bass after attending a concert with the Oscar Peterson Trio); and Niels Pedersen (who talks about being part of a three-bass band). The segments are very brief, but the DVD's bio notes manage to sketch out the careers of the three veteran bass players.
DVDs in the Live in Vienna series include Barre Phillips, Rufus Reid, Duncan McTier; Arni Egilsson/Niels-Henning Oersted Petersen/Wayne Darling, and Miroslav Vitous.
Also released simultaneously from MVD Visual is The Oscar Peterson Trio: Live in Berlin (1985), featuring Peterson, drummer Martin Drew, and bassist Niels Pederson.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan