Reviewed by Joseph Cummins, July 1st, 2015
Bassist-improviser Mike Majkowski presents another highly refined and impressively performed exploration of (mostly) solo bass on Neighbouring Objects. The playing here is so focused and the territory explored is so rich and resonant that one gets the feeling of being deeply embedded in this soundscape. Like his last album Why is there something instead of nothing (2013), the listener is dropped medias res into the current of Majkowski’s playing. Perhaps above all, Neighbouring Objects is a feat of endurance, on par with a group like The Necks, renowned for their staying power. It’s fascinating to see how Majkowski’s playing has developed in this direction (I used to play in the large free improv ensemble The Splinter Orchestra with Mike before he moved to Berlin), considering the multifarious nature of his playing with the excellent trio Roil (with James Waples and Chris Abrahams).
Track one – Chandelier/ Gondola/ Echoing Stars – is a study in beating, pulsing rhythms overlaid with shimmering overtones. Simplicity is wedded to beauty, stasis woven with rhythm. Tremolo bowing is taken to an extreme – it seems to be becoming Majkowski’s signature. As the track develops, the swinging back and forth higher and lower range textures are underpinned by a delicate heartbeat rhythm. In a subtle compositional move, at 9.20 Majkowski adds in a much lower register to support what has been constructed so far, and this addition gives a distinct completeness to the piece as a whole.
I’m sure that, on a recording so finely-wrought, the fact that both tracks are 17 minutes and forty-odd seconds long must relate to something in the compositional and improvisational approach…or perhaps it’s just the fact this album has been released on limited-edition cassette tape and had that temporal restriction in place. (Majkowski’s last release Why is there something similarly had two sides both of almost exactly the same length).
Side two – Carnival of Decay – is again built from tremolo bowing. Rolling back and forth across a tritone interval, this piece is somehow both a continuation of the last piece and a completely new beginning. This dialectic impression is something I get from many of the best improvisers (of any genre) – everything they do sounds at the same time exactly like everything else, and completely unique. Endless repetition with endless variety. The simplicity of the broad intervallic movement in Carnival of Decay is wreathed in myriad harmonics and the woody, resinous texture of the bow, strings and hollow body of the double bass.
But wait…at 6.30 minutes we hear a few notes from a piano! Minutes later the clip and twitter of what sounds like multiple claves. And later again, some minimal synthesizer is introduced, combining with the piano to lead to a climax, before everything cuts away to leave an ungainly humming, twisting thread of sound. As the piece progresses Majkowski is able to provoke even more harmonic silk form his instrument, more than I thought possible: maybe there’s a field recording of insects being used here? Whatever the case, I loved the delicate use of some extra sounds, all in the service of the overall soundworld. Everything seems to have grown naturally: nothing is out of place.
Perhaps Majkowski has succeeded in transforming his double bass into a living thing? Neighbouring Objects is a showcase of the ever-increasing improvisational and conceptual skill of bassist Majkowski.