Robert Black

Friday, 15 November 2013

Five recordings that opened doors for the New York-based double bassist

No one had ever heard bass playing sound like Gary Karr's – clear and technically proficient

Rafael Puyana, harpsichord
François Couperin Pièces de clavecin
I first heard this during my undergraduate years in the late 1970s. As a young musician I didn’t know much about the French Baroque and this was so dazzling, the voicings on the harpsichord so colourful, it made me aware of the possibilities of the instrument. It’s made up of many short movements, so you can dip in and out of the music as much as you want. It prompted me to find out more about people like Rameau and their crazy, wonderful work.  

Gary Karr
Gary Karr Plays Double Bass
I studied with Gary Karr and he’s a wonderful, inspirational teacher. For many decades he was the pre-eminent bass player, and this recording from 1959 revolutionised bass playing throughout the world. It features standard bass repertoire, such as the Eccles Sonata and Koussevitzky’s short pieces, but no one had ever heard bass playing sound like that – clear and technically proficient. Before that album, there were no recordings of bass players in any solo capacity. Gary Karr paved the way for them, and set the bar very high.

Shem Guibbory, violin
Steve Reich Violin Phase
I first heard this, and Reich’s Drumming, in the 1980s. Both pieces made me sit up – I couldn’t believe music could be like this, and that’s what I’d chosen to spend my life doing. It’s fascinating to watch a live performance of the works, where the artists have to be utterly focused; there’s nowhere in the music where you can coast.

Jack Quartet
Xenakis String Quartets
I’ve played a lot of Xenakis’s music and worked with him on his bass piece Theraps. He writes some of the most physically demanding music there is, and the Jack Quartet performs his quartets spectacularly, with an energy, vividness and a visceral quality that I think is ideal for the music.

Brazil Classics Vol. 1: Beleza Tropical
This album was my introduction to Brazilian music. Released in 1989, the whole recording had a fresh, free quality with instrumental timbres that were completely new to me. It seemed to me to be a non-commercial kind of popular music, even though the artists – such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – are superstars in Brazil.

Photo: Thomas Giroir

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