Barry Guy – bass
All compositions by Barry Guy (PRS, MCPS). Recorded 11th January 2009 in Vilnius, at St. Catherine’s Church. Mixed and mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Painting by Albert Irvin, BRADY 1986, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in / 152.4 x 182.9 cm. Barry Guy plays exclusively on Thomastik Bass strings. Producer – Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov
Trackslist: Side A: 1. FIZZLE I 2. FIZZLE II 3. FIZZLE III Side B: 1. FIZZLE IV 2. FIZZLE V
Is there a better all-around bassist with a bow than Barry Guy?
That query may scream sycophantic hyperbole, but in taking stock of the British improviser’s discography it’s an interrogative that can’t help but manifest repeatedly. On Guy’s end the distinction of best isn’t even a peripheral consideration or goal. He’s placed his instrument in near-countless contexts, bringing to it a perfect sense of pitch and dynamics. Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett is right in line with that sterling track record, and although it shares its name partially with an earlier solo venture, the sounds here are wholly discrete.
Limited to pressing of 300 copies, the vinyl vessel is immediately destined to availability as finite as the EP-sized program. The surroundings are a spacious Lithuanian church where Guy makes ample use of the acoustics, starting the first of five terse pieces with a concentrated display of precision arco dexterity. Spindly pizzicato scuttlings follow in the second, moving on to string plinks and plonks that cascade and carom within the room with the brittleness of a tautly-wound zither. The third part centers on chiming punctuations inserted within a continuous descending and ascending cloud of string strums that soon dissipate into silence.
The second side opens with held tones that swiftly into starkly percussive layers laced with a gorgeous application of decay. Jagged scrapes and emery board rubbings bring forth a myriad of controlled ancillary harmonics on the final piece. Once again the music races by to an abrupt end. The after effect is an immediate desire for more with realization that there’s no more to be had. Perhaps that’s part of the larger point in light of the title Guy attached the piece. Beckett’s storied minimalism and brevity applied to musical means. — Derek Taylor
LP version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)
Not to be confused with Fizzles (Maya, 1993), which contains the first documented version of the titular work along with other pieces for solo bass, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett is a 14 minute limited edition EP which does what it says on the tin. Virtuoso British bassist Barry Guy has long drawn inspiration from other art forms, especially writings and visual works. Beckett wrote eight texts between 1960 and 1976, seven written in French (under the title Foirades which was translated as “Fizzles,” although it also possesses other meanings, including notably “wet fart” as Beckett was well aware) and one, “Still,” in English.
In an interview with Declan O’Driscoll published in Music & Literature No. 4 (2014) Guy explains: “Each Fizzle is a short compressed outburst -literary chamber music of great power and beauty. It occurred to me that these “outbursts” could form the basis for little improvisations , each dedicated to particular bass colors and articulations. I have variously performed them in sets of three, five, or seven according to the program at hand. I find them to be a motivator for precise thinking and musical rhetoric.”
While Beckett’s pieces can be analyzed in terms of phrase length and language, Guy has further parameters at his disposal: speed, volume, and the choice of whether to attack the strings with bow, fingers or other implements. These he combines to realize five concise contrasting exhibitions of dazzling technique which deliver a visceral impact. Close recording at a concert in Vilnius the Lithuanian capital, in 2011, allows full appreciation of the nuances which Guy achieves both with and without his volume pedal.
Although “Fizzle I” largely comprises swooping arco glissandi in perpetual motion, it incorporates a brief lyrically keening interlude, which gives it the flavor of a miniature three part suite. While maintaining similar momentum, in “Fizzle II” Guy bounces either a stick or his bow off the strings to create a stream of tiny koto-like tics, interspersed with silence before closing by hitting the strings and letting the harmonics resound.
“Fizzle III” features strummed tremolos with ringing outliers, while “Fizzle IV” begins with deep resonant slurs before flurries of dense pizzicato sweep between both ends of the fingerboard. “Fizzle V” passes in a litany of abrasive approaches, at times violent and scratchy, but when Guy introduces a second voice with his bow more mysterious and austere.
Presenting the music in such bite size chunks encourages intense concentration without the risk of it ever becoming a daunting exercise. It’s time well spent.
Anyone who knows the scene knows that Barry Guy is one of the very foremost bass artists on the contemporary avant improv jazz horizon. He has been for years. No one can touch his sound footprint, whether bowing, pizzicato or utilizing a mix of sound production techniques.
A solo EP LP is available by Barry, called Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (No Business EP 02). It was recorded in an ambient cathedral in 2009. The five improvised movements show an extroverted Barry pulling out all his resourceful creative sound-producing abilities. Harmonics, a sort of rattling ambience, smears of multi-articulated sonics, playing below the bridge, you-name-it, he goes there in effective artistic ways. Even just Barry doing pizz gives you his signature, but he is everywhere on this one.
He pulls it all together in a 15-20 minute tribute to the great 20th-century writer.
If you have even the slightest interest in the avant contrabass you will find this one rewarding and satisfying. It is indispensable listening. Highly recommended.