The music on Scythe Paths Through the Nettles, an album of free improvisations for violin and double bass, is unlike much freely improvised music for strings. Violinist Tom Swafford and double bassist Zachary Swanson play with a strong bias toward incorporating elements of song, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, into improvisations that are free-ranging yet remain grounded in more traditional forms of music. This isn’t surprising, given that the two met while playing together in an old-time string band. There’s some of the old-time feel to Swafford’s sound—even given some passing episodes of extended technique, his playing shows its roots in fiddling as well as in jazz. Swanson mostly plays a robust pizzicato, although he switches to bow on Spokeshave, Rasp, and Scraper for chording as well as single lines, and on Shoulder Yoke and Harrow Down the Clouds, the most “avant” of the duets. On pieces like By the Fork and the Flail, with its sublimating swing and walking basslines, Swafford and Swanson make explicit contact with jazz; Dark Carlyle and Rear Brake Caliper hint at a chord progression.
Scythe Paths Through the Nettles was recorded in a warehouse in Brooklyn and possibly as a result, its sound quality is on the raw side. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen and presents a unique perspective on unpremeditated music.