There’s a subtle, but still substantial, challenge involved in improvising a duet in which both instruments are the same. The potential for redundancy and a monochromatic sound is an ever-present specter hovering nearby, which can only be avoided with discretion, technical mastery, and a sensitive touch. Fortunately—and by no means unexpectedly—all three qualities are abundant on this set of double bass duets featuring William Parker and the late Stefano Scodanibbio.
The five untitled pieces—which seem to have been separated from a continuous performance recorded in June 2008 in Udine, Italy—show the mostly parallel motion of two powerful and articulate voices, each complete in its own sphere but whose instances of convergence create moments of collaborative brilliance. The image that comes to mind is of two speakers of mutually comprehensible dialects of the same language, each of which is distinguished by differences of pronunciation and prosody. Some of these differences can be ascribed to differences in background. Scodanibbio was part of the modern classical tradition and played works by major avant-garde and modernist composers, some of which were written for him. Parker was and remains a vital figure in creative music, having played with Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Milford Graves and others in New York and elsewhere. But common to both is a language consisting in an expansive palette of timbres, which Parker and Scodanibbio have developed and structured in their own ways. Parker plays with an exuberance and coiled energy that find expression in denser textures and the explicit rhythms of several vamps and grooves he sets out—not least on the second piece, which moves in an eddy of sophisticated cross-rhythms. Scodanibbio generally favors a more dispersed, episodic sound based on harmonics, multiphonics and bow articulation, but he too spells out rhythms, often by bouncing the bow on the strings or by tapping complex patterns on the body of the bass. Both bassists are masters of sonic nuance and tonal shading; it’s a true pleasure to hear them as they converge and diverge in an elaborate timbral counterpoint.