Duos for drums and bass

Last weeks saw the release of two records that may serve as a brilliant example here. Llovage is a peculiar amalgam of ideas and sounds, whose range of uses is as broad as that of the title herb, whereas Black Myths are all about reflecting the emotions, revolt and anger of the African American community through music.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

Do you play bass or drums? That’s great, but take almost any band, and you’re relegated to the background.Although you keep jazz, rock and pop tracks together, you rarely take the spotlight. There are exceptions, of course, in the form of bands fronted by bassists or drummers, but the rhythm section stereotype lingers on – in spite of many artists working to counter it. Last weeks saw the release of two records that may serve as a brilliant example here.

Llovage is a duo formed by Olo Walicki and Jacek Prościński, two musicians with different seniority levels, who share an open-minded approach and refuse to acknowledge any barriers to the use of their instruments.Walicki is most strongly rooted in the jazz and improvised scene (from Łoskot to Kaszëbë), but is also known as the author of film scores. Theoretically, Prościński also started out with jazz, but his array of influences is equally broad – he plays with Tymon Tymański, Reni Jusis, Delay_ok and the Lasy duo. He’s a drummer who’s fascinated with sounds from the Warp Records roster, most notably Aphex Twin and Autechre. The modest description on the album indicates the main instrument played by both musicians, with the added keyword “electronics”, which stands for a whole range of sounds and ideas. Walicki relies on keyboards, sampler and effects, while Prościński has his own sampler and also uses sensory percussion. In Llovage, they create a blend of moods and styles that is so eclectic as if both of them had not two, but at least four hands.

The album demonstrates a panoply of ideas. “Jino” sounds very emotional owing to the effects used on the double bass and sparse, reverberating drums. As if Walicki and his instrument were right next to the speaker, while Prościński was further back in some industrial hall. This oneiric track (the longest on the record) makes for a brilliant contrast with the earlier “Katorga”, which is the most avant-garde, layered and extensive piece, oscillating between delicately plucked strings and Walicki’s rock riffs. There is room here for a clear rhythm, like in “Reno”, where rattles overlap with ambient bass passages and Prościński’s drum, which has an almost military air here. There are patches of colourful, almost post-rock formats, exemplified by “Pyza Step” with its amazing drum intro and double bass wall of sound, supplemented with potent rhythm interspersed with vowel samples. In turn, “NWW” sounds like something out of Warp Records – the double bass approximates glitch structures, while the fragmented percussion jostles about to the accompaniment of ambient reverbs in the background. In “Dziecko z Rossmana”, a melancholy track whose title alludes to “Rosemary’s Baby”, we may vaguely make out the famous melody, but it sounds like a sonic mirage. That’s the epitome of Llovage. This is more than just playing with conventions, exploring the nooks and crannies of the genre and pushing the boundaries of instruments. Llovage stand for a creative conversation (brilliantly exemplified by this video), for vertical structures of tracks (where one idea smoothly follows another), created live without unnecessary post-production. Walicki cumulates the double bass sound, adding layer after layer to the palette, while Prościński’s high-wire drumming is truly astounding. This is mathematical precision achieved with ease. A peculiar amalgam of ideas and sounds, whose range of uses is as broad as that of the title herb.

Washington-based Black Myths is a polar opposite. They’ve just put out their second album, which I’ve keenly awaited after their debut released two years ago. Bassist Luke Stewart plays in Irreversible Entanglements and Heroes Are Gang Leaders, among others, while drummer Warren Crudup III can be heard in James Brandon Lewis’s ensemble (I was lucky enough to see all of them live). The effect of their collaboration is harsh street music, which shouts at the listeners, piercing their eardrums and disturbing their peace. This is music verging on jazz and punk – at times minimalist, like in “No Escape”, where both artists carefully measure out their sounds only to bring it on with a noise-tinged form that gets ever more potent and dense (“Stand Your Ground”). This squealing racket is punk in nature, but it’s the sound that counts: raw, lo-fi, sometimes reminiscent of Lightning Bolt explosions. Black Myths are either brief and concise or else they completely lose it, pushing the boundaries of their escapades. The sparse instrumentation is boosted with amps and looping,while the musicians explore the various meetings between bass and drums. “My Switch” is a broken free jazz/noise piece, full of improvised distortions. “The Buff” is a noisy, ambient exploration of the bass, with the percussion hidden in the background, built around the bass drum and airy hi-hats. “Redbone”, in turn, reminds one of the blues. One of the most potent moments on the record is “Free Land”, with its rock flair, which instead of moving from experimentation to hit single, liberates itself from enslavement.

After all, II is a political album – the tracks are interspersed with Thomas Stanley’s monologues about supremacy, class, war and other ills troubling today’s America, but their message would have not been half as potent had it not been for the aggressive and very emotional music. Free-jazz? Post-hardcore? Noise? Black Myths consistently show just how much they have to say using such sparse means. Their striking power is huge, the album has lingered in my mind for a long time. Contrary to sophisticated Llovage, Black Myths are all about reflecting the emotions, revolt and anger of the African American community through music. Owing to its form, this is both a musical and a political statement. And it’s stirring to the core.

Llovage, Llovage, Gusstaff
Black Myths, II, Atlantic Rhythms