This recent download release by New Haven, Connecticut based composer and multi-instrumentalist Carl Testa provides a good introduction to his work in the solo and small group formats. Testa, who organizes New Haven’s Uncertainty Music Series, performs in a variety of projects on electronics, double bass and bass clarinet; Solos/Trios finds him creating sounds on the former two platforms.
The album begins with Testa embarking on four brief and varied excursions into electronic improvisation, recorded live at Brown Rice in Chicago on 16 February, 2010. “Electronics 1” uses synthesizer and processed sounds of appliances, creating a surging and burbling foundation supporting sounds reminiscent of mallet percussion. The emulated game system sounds of “Electronics 2” make for bursts of distortion sounding like a gaming arcade gone mad. “Electronics 3,” described as an improvisation for “wavering electronics,” throws out wobbling tones in upper and lower registers, while “Electronics 4” exploits low frequency sounds to set up a throbbing drone that occasionally mimics a bass drum.
The electronic pieces are followed by two group improvisations for a trio consisting of Testa on double bass, Nick Broste on trombone and Jeff Kimmel on bass clarinet. Without a harmony instrument to provide a chordal background, the clarity of the three intertwining lines can assert itself, as ad hoc harmonies emerge and disperse spontaneously as artifacts of free counterpoint; the instrumentalists find and create their own rhythms as the flow of their interlocking melodies allow. Each trio improvisation allows individual space for Testa, Broste and Kimmel, creating a low-density sound that evokes the openness of modernist chamber music, albeit with a strong jazz flavor. The two trio performances are thoughtful and evocative, with the combination of the three lower-registered instruments—the winds contrasting with Testa’s pizzicato bass–creating an introspective, chiaroscuro atmosphere.
The closing piece is an improvisation for solo double bass that, like the trio improvisations, was recorded live at Elastic Arts in Chicago in February 2010. Testa begins with sul ponticello bowing on open strings to pull a bright set of overtones from the bass, creating pulsing drones marked by variable shadings of color; tension builds with an irregular vibrato leading to slashes of discordant and consonant stacked tones, culminating in washes of harmonics.