There are some points of commonality between Frequency Drift, this collaboration between percussionist Ken Moore and double bassist Daniel Barbiero, and Nostos, Barbiero’s recording with Christian Bocci from last year. Barbiero’s fluid, muscular playing dominates both, his bowed strokes evoking an austere grace that’s at times verging on the baroque. The methodology is another – in both cases Barbiero recorded his parts first then sent them to his collaborators to work on. In Nostos, sound artist Bocci layered Barbiero’s recordings and smeared them with electronics, resulting in an intricate, impossible geometry whose many constituent parts seemed constantly to be in motion. Frequency Drift shares this approach, but the execution is simpler. Moore grafted clanging, metallic tam-tam figures onto the double bass lines, creating rugged structures that contrast stark beauty with sudden shifts into dissonance.
Grey On Black Over Maroon, the album’s final piece, showcases both these extremes. At 12 minutes long and then some, it casts deep, brooding shadows of arco, the double bass so low that it could be a particularly evil synth with all its knobs set to ‘doom’. Those bass lines are as beguiling and deadly as a shark cruising the depths, with Moore’s tam-tam often gathering in the slipstream, a silvery after-echo of sudden strikes and soft, resonant booms. The duo allows space and silence allowed to grow between each instrumental foray, and the regular surge and fade lets tension creep in without resorting to melodrama. On the earlier Beyond the Sound, Barbiero lurks around a higher register, with dissonant shards of pizzicato and wheezy bowing that punctuate a hissing bed of tam-tam, Moore’s patters alternating between hi-hat style tinkles and the kind of nails-down-the-blackboard scrapes that evince a kind of pained glee in the listener.
When Barbiero announced this release, he noted that the double bass and tam-tam perhaps wasn’t “the first combination of instruments one might think of as going together”. Maybe, although my first thought was of the work of Mark Wastell, who has explored the sonic possibilities both of bass string instruments (in Wastell’s case, the cello) and the tam-tam during various points in his career. True, Wastell’s stripped-back approach to his cello in such outfits as IST, in which the smallest sound artefacts of his instrument are mined for maximum sonic potential, is a world away from Barbiero’s rugged expansiveness. And on the tam-tam, Wastell’s pursuit of extended tonal explorations – his Vibra recordings are a touchstone here – are different again to Moore’s improvisatory subtleties.
But comparisons are often useful for the differences they throw up as much as the similarities they highlight. That Wastell and Barbiero/Moore can produce such a variance in sound with similar materials is a marvellous thing. Barbiero and Moore’s Doing Without is probably where things draw nearest to Wastell’s world, with Barbiero’s plucked harmonics extending its tendrils towards the territory of IST (check out the 1997 recording Consequences (of time and place) for evidence). But Moore’s mischievous, metallic strikes and dramatic gong-like interventions pull this piece right out of Wastell and co’s microscopic intensity, pushing out into a stormier, more melodramatic realm. And on Frequency Drift’s title track, the duo slide further away from tonality, Moore generating scratches of digital-sounding white noise as Barbiero saws out an evil double-bass moan, the whole thing working up into a tremendously bad tempered squeal. Engrossing stuff.