IMOO #166: David Parker and Linsey Wellman
General Assembly, Ottawa
Sunday, November 19, 2017 – 7 p.m.
The double bass and the baritone saxophone are best known as deep-pitched instruments. But at the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais show on November 19, David Parker and Linsey Wellman made them sing right across the musical spectrum – and together, in a completely-improvised show.
This was Wellman's public debut on baritone. His usual instruments, until now, have been the alto sax and bass clarinet. He's a strong performer on both, using circular breathing to create long passages which can rapidly move between quiet and loud, calm and intense, low and high pitched.
A month ago, he bought a baritone sax and he's been playing with it ever since. The first set of this show showed how much he'd accomplished already: he had the same intense approach to baritone as the alto, but the resulting sound was fuller and broader. While his alto playing is very pointed and keen-edged, cutting through any other sounds in the room, his baritone sound was wider and extended more deeply. At the same time, he was also able to take it right up and down the scale, with bird tweets dropping down to foghorn growls.
As he has previously played alto, Wellman used multiphonics to create multiple strands of sound in a wide-ranging display. His 30-minute performance which opened this show was effectively continuous – with only a few stops for breath. He moved from barely breathing into the instrument to playing frantically and full-out, creating dramatic passages.
The audience responded with enthusiastic and extended applause.
David Parker is a multi-instrumentalist from the Kingston area, whose primary instruments are electronics/laptop, and the double bass. He created a series of soundscapes in the second set, beginning with several electronic devices, and using feedback to create a symphony in loud bursts and one-off cycles. He then added pre-recorded loops, which sounded like hissing winds or dripping water, in among a few crashes and bangs.
The loops changed to more of a traffic-like drone, and over that mechanical noise he started bowing his double bass. The bowing was as much percussive as musical, although at one point it did sound like old-time fiddling. Eventually, he turned off the drone and just bowed the bass, moving from thin and attenuated to rougher and deeper sounds. His bowing became faster and faster, almost stuttering, with the fingers of one hand muting the strings as he bowed. He ended with a deep, resonant passage whose sounds kept twisting and shifting before they faded out. It was a complex and engrossing 30+ minutes of unusual sounds.
Wellman and Parker then immediately teamed up to play two duo improvisations. In both cases, they used the resonance of the hard-edged space to add definition to what they played – mostly quiet and sparse, allowing the notes to spread out through the room. The music slowly modulated as each responded to the other, moving from breathy saxophone and light bass rhythms to a melodic elegy to fast, bright rhythms to very intense bowing and blowing. In the second piece, they used their instruments more for percussion than melody, Wellman clicking the keys on his sax, Parker very lightly touching the surface of his bass strings with his bow, creating more of a rubbing sound than actual notes. They ended with alternating high and low notes culminating in a quick flourish.
I particularly enjoyed Parker's bass playing, with his imaginative use of arco techniques and muting to create different sounds, and how he combined the bass with pre-recorded loops. Wellman impressively expanded his repertoire with the baritone, retaining his own style and using the different capabilities of that instrument to create beautiful sounds. And playing together they showed considerable empathy and coordination. They'd be well worth hearing together again.
Read related stories by OttawaJazzScene.ca: