Eleonore Oppenheim‘s debut album Home (Innova Recordings) is a showcase of diverse compositions and approaches to writing for the bass. Her self-description of being a “musical omnivore and polyglot” are indeed appropriate labels; her performances on this CD are nuanced, sensitive, and speak to each composer’s voice with attentive care–Oppenheim is clearly at home with each one of them.
Angélica Negrón‘s La Isla Magica begins with descending synth-y gestures out of which the bass emerges. There’s a really great energy here; the bouncing rhythms are augmented by a deep low end and percussive slap of the strings. Forward motion is omnipresent throughout without feeling too urgent or overpowering. For a piece that’s 8 minutes long, it feels like each section–which evolved into each other very smoothly and seamlessly–is almost too short. I wanted to spend some more time in each section because there was a lovely distinctness in the blending of sounds. One sound that was supportive in the previous section was given spotlight in the next, and I wanted to spend more time getting to know each sound before it left. I would’ve also liked to hear more bowed bass in the upper registers, too, since it felt like the bass was more of a supportive instrument rather than the main focus (and sometimes got lost in the texture).
Florent Ghys‘ Crocodile begins sweetly and simply over a spoken word sample. The opening polyrhythmic bass duo–a nice set of variants on a few notes–oozes with a gentle sentimentality that feels pretty rare these days, at least to my ears. However, this sentiment ends abruptly before launching into a pizzicato groove accompanied by hand claps and quarter-note triplets. The groove is stretched and torn at the seams, distorting the initial beat before suddenly introducing a solfege sample, which itself doesn’t last very long, unfortunately. Overall, Crocodile is a lovely composition, however, after a bit, it started to feel like a few different compositions stitched together.
Wil Smith‘s Heavy Breathing grabs your attention immediately; literally with a bang. Arguably the most moody composition on the CD, Smith’s bangs, pops, and fizzles are a striking contrast to everything that came before it. Electronic samples pop in and out in startling fragments as an emergent texture of moaning bass, long artificial guitar-feedback-like tones, and what even sounds like morse code dance and play in an abstract and foreboding landscape. Oppenheim’s performance is especially notable here, particularly towards the end; she brings out wonderfully lyrical over-lapping lines that invoke Penderecki.
The fourth and title track, Jenny Olivia Johnson‘s Home, begins with unassuming diads and long-held tones that dissolve away from each other, slowly going out of phase and altering intonation. It’s a slow but beautiful transformation–a journey outward and away from “home,” as it were– an unfolding of sound and texture that really makes the bass sound like an entire ensemble. The piece begins to open up as the rhythmic pace begins to quicken. It wasn’t until this point that I realized the bass was amplified. The chugging rhythms and interspersed high notes almost sound guitar-like (which makes sense, given the use of guitar pedals). There are a lot of layers here–I had a hard time determining how many basses there were, and that was one of my favorite parts.
The fifth and final track, Lorna Dune‘s Home Remix, takes a few samples from the previous track and re-imagines them in a totally different way. Unfortunately, the samples didn’t really feel like a major part of this composition during some sections; they were relocated to the background like a ghostly image of their former selves. This is a fine piece on its own, and I would advise everyone to check it out, however, it kind of felt out of place given the other compositions on this CD.
Home is a nice compendium of different styles, voices, and approaches to writing for the bass, and Oppenheim’s performances do each composition justice. It’s clear she approached each piece with care and consideration; her performances brought out the strengths of each composition, and I’m truly looking forward to what she does next.