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Album Review

April 2009 was a busy month for Antwerp double bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye. Not only did he spearhead the recording of Songs from Mirage, the third full-length CD by his principal creative outlet, the avant-prog chamber rock outfit Aranis, but he also kept his fingers busy under the moniker of BASta! (exclamation point included and fully warranted), recording this occasionally astounding 45-minute album of solo bass. Whether through multi-tracking or looping (in solo live performance he has produced the sounds heard here in real time using an array of looping and effects pedals), Vanvinckenroye oftentimes suggests a bass-filled ensemble of nearly orchestral proportions, in multi-layered compositions encompassing both the highest and lowest notes the instrument is capable of producing. Unsurprisingly, the bassist is enamored of pulse-driven music, as he is when composing for Aranis, and in many ways Cycles sounds like Aranis if that ensemble's violins, flute, accordion, piano, and guitar had been replaced by basses. The result is somewhat earthier, and if you think Aranis' chamber instrumentation and Euro-folkish elements humanize that group's post-minimalist tendencies, well, Vanvinckenroye takes things a step further here — with their woody textures and grain, his basses are engaged in a deeply organic dance as they lay down a strong foundation of repeated phrases while also answering one another in counterpoint, chugging through the middle ground with relentless drive, and singing wildly in the high registers. And that's only on the first track, "Codis." Scattered across the disc as a whole, Vanvinckenroye uses the bass as a percussive instrument, his arco playing is rich with overtones and recorded with crystal clarity yet depth by Pieter Thys (who certainly deserves much credit for the amazing sonics heard here), and his pizzicato technique in the deepest range provides a true kick to the sternum. On album highlight "SRP," a 7/8 rhythmic foundation is joined by buzzing, fluid basses before shimmering celestial strings — those are basses? — enter to astonishing effect. Vanvinckenroye and Thys conjure up a rough and grainy tone particularly in the middle register, given added punch by the bassist's sometimes clipped phrasing, even when he is bowing. Vanvinckenroye never loses sight of the fact that the double bass is a rhythm section instrument, and rhythm is key throughout Cycles, even when the bassist mimics the sound of a creaky door hinge in a haunted house during "Delayed" (although he strays from the rhythm in a standout improvisational interlude during the title track — ironically perhaps the most uncharacteristic music on the disc). Cycles is a fabulous showcase for Joris Vanvinckenroye, demonstrating his ability to chart a remarkable creative path as a solo artist and casting the talents he has brought to Aranis in a new light.

Top Albums and Songs by BASta!

Cycles, BASta!
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