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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dan Styffe, Secret Memories

The contrabass has achieved prominence in jazz and improvisation circles over time. In the new music-classical field music for a contrabass soloist with various groupings is less often encountered, and the number of bonifide contrabass virtuosi somewhat proportionately less.

From the evidence of the album Secret Memories (SIMAX 1324), Dan Styffe is most certainly one of the best of them. It features Dan throughout in a wide variety of settings, solo, chamber and a concerto for double bass and orchestra. There are lesser known composers: Rolf Martinsson, for example, contributes the concerto. And some more established ones: Kurtag, Scelsi, Norgard.

Drawing it all together is the fine arco and sometimes pizzicato sensibilities of Styffe. He has a beautiful tone and very good technique harnessed to a totalizing musical sensibility.

Not all the compositions are of masterpiece quality. Martinsson's Double Bass Concerto No. 1 has a well thought-out solo part, played beautifully, but the orchestral writing veers on occasion to the overly cinematic to my tastes.

Nevertheless taken as a whole Secret Memories is one view, a very pleasurable one, of the contrabass as fully fledged solo instrument, in an effective meld of Styffe's very musical approach and some interesting compositions that put him in attractive and sometimes challenging settings.

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