With the introduction of metal strings in the 1950s, the double bass took on the modern sound it continues to have today. Because they’re able to lie close to the fingerboard, metal strings can afford fast movement; because of their composition and uniformity of size, they can produce a relatively bright, highly focused tone and respond predictably and quickly to bow and finger. And yet…The gut strings they replaced, while harder to maintain and more resistant to the hand and bow, had peculiarities of timbre and touch that, in some circumstances, could offer advantages. In the hands of a vigorous free improviser like Aaron Lumley, gut strings’ darker, coarser-grained sound is perfectly suited.
The ten pieces on Lumley’s Katabasis/Anabasis bear witness to an exploratory bassist with an aggressively physical attack—a collision of player and played erupting in a series of rattling, grinding, and creaking exclamations from deep within the instrument. Lumley has a strong and varied pizzicato that complements a robust arco exerting a compelling weight on the strings. One can almost see those strings visibly vibrating with each stroke of the bow or strike of the hand.