The word “grappling” serves as a suitable description for Aaron Lumley’s bass work on his newest solo album Katabasis/Anabasis. Throughout the album there is a constant push and pull pressing on the emotions of the listener as Lumley tests the limits of each of his melodic ideas and extended techniques. On the tune “Grappling with a River,” Lumley instills a certain anxiousness from the very beginning by tightly gripping his bow, ripping a stressed tone from the strings of his instrument. Resolution is avoided throughout the 12 minute track making for an intense experience that sticks out as a highlight on a fantastic long-form album.
On his last full-length LP, Wilderness, Lumley’s focus was on melody. Quick-hitting tunes writhe with angular bass-lines and rapid development filled the track-list resulting in a concise musical project. For his 2016 project, Lumley has clearly shifted focus quite a bit. Rather than quickly jumping from idea to idea, Katabasis/Anabasis reads as an exploration into the limits of motivic ideas. Each sound is re-iterated over and over with Lumley droning on with similar bow movements for 8 to 10 minute periods. Being the longest effort on the work, “Grappling with a River” becomes a centerpiece of sorts. Despite the occasional up or down in energy level, this tune remains somewhat full-throttle throughout. The wavering bow continuously tests the limits of the strings with each idea heating up to a boil before ceding musical space to the subdued plucking of strings.
A great deal of risk is taken on this project as little room is left for subtlety approaching a maximalist ideology. The droning mentality behind the overall sound of the album makes for near-constant noise, yet Lumley’s way of building upon his foundation is ever-so gradual with each track remaining sensible throughout.
Lumley is a voice in Montreal that suggests the questioning of what it means to be an improviser. Although he doesn’t have a strong conservatory background (he only began playing bass at age 25), Aaron has clearly made himself a strong musician. Perhaps the lack of jazz background has allowed him to focus on his melodic playing as he has never been tied to learning to walk a bass-line on standards. Also, the non-conservatory music scene in Montreal may serve as an argument for individuality over virtuosity. Lumley’s virtuosity comes through in his basic musical instincts; ideas are developed logically without coming across as “showing off.” Sometimes it is more difficult to re-create a feeling than a technically-advanced, written passage, this is what Lumley has emphasized in his work.