Attending this first concert of 2006 was an easy choice for me to make. It was the very idea of the duo performance of David Arner on piano and Michael Bisio on string bass that took me the distance from where I write here to where I could hear them. And the music transcended the miles I traveled.
Arner chooses his musical syntax from an encyclopedic knowledge of the capacity of the keyboard. Bisio rewards the listener with a soft and dedicated approach to the bass strings. Every sound that the two make is simple. It is in the interaction that those same sounds can promote a blended complexity. It is in the interaction of an orientation to detail, which is paramount to Arner’s precise address to his instrument, with Bisio’s tender and broad strokes that can paint a complete musical picture. A wedding of opposites.
The concert took place in an informal setting in the Hudson Valley. As the music was about to begin, Arner was poised over the sounding board of a grand piano. Bisio stood in the space shaped by the curve of the piano, his fingers ready to engage the strings at the neck of the bass.
The sound commenced. It spread out invisibly in small, quiet motion. Both players were plucking and tapping their own strings in a conversation with one another, cementing the space as the groundwork for the upcoming dynamic. The two carefully picked where they intersected. It was like foreplay before they thrust their coherence and persistence and dove into the place where the vibrations of the strings merged, ringing and full.
Arner moved his fingers to the keyboard as Bisio charted out a dreamy, beautiful melody. A quickly captivating rhythmic content crossed through the terrifically stringent and abstracted sound constructions and eventually took over. The power of the rhythm was not inconsistent with the endlessly repeated cascades of notes on the piano complemented by slow grooves on the bass, thumbed and plucked over the strings.
The drive and climb to the next configuration of time was all that mattered. To be so ensconced in the activity at hand was all that mattered. The poetry of the musician’s becoming one with the instrumental interplay was all that mattered.
Chordal shifts in the piano aligned with snaps of the strings on the bass. The bass notes were squeezed and pushed and eventually met the bow. The piano music transformed into a drone for a while. Bisio bowed adamant, large, classical gestures which were pitted against exquisitely small detailed ones on the piano. Arner’s fingers evoked grandeur with a tact completely different from that of Bisio. They both produced resonating tones unparalleled for the rest of night. The potency of the resonance overcame anything that could follow. The sound seemed electronic; the two instruments had reached the same tonal arena: as the sound became larger, so was influenced its largeness. The sound surrounded itself. No drama: only indeterminate determinacy. Arner flickered with his little finger in the treble seeming to signal the sight of the end of this road. Bisio applied force on his bow, vibrating one string after the other. Arner came back to center with careful placement of his fingers and his foot on the pedal. The pitch on the bass ascended. Bisio scraped a high finishing note.
After an arresting statement of virtuosity, calmness bathed the audience. The musicians took a deep breath.
Arner introduced the next piece with a tuneful basis. From there, with the rhythm an underlying constant, he worked to map out his process. Bisio entered slowly with a relaxed pizzicato. Midst the lacey pianistic structure made of chords, trills and atonal clusters, Bisio strummed, played staccato and snapped the bass strings. Then Arner stamped out double-handed marching phrases permitting himself to charge into a group of changes that seesawed between chords and fluid swirls and landed into a set of phases. Bisio spread himself to correspond sweepingly with the rapidity with which Arner traveled dryly and then coloristically over the piano. With one finger wagging over the strings constantly, Bisio fell into a nearly Spanish guitar type fluttering-he was echoing Arner’s playfulness. The musicians were consumed in the rhythm that had developed. And once again, a groove overwhelmed the gathering of the senses. The music was joyous. Each player spoke to one another unremittingly. The atmosphere the music expired was one of captivation and immersion. Bisio grunted with the pulse. Arner repeated one series of tumbling notes after the other. The bass exuded tightness, yet that tightness was paradoxically supple and elastic.
After passing through a hiatus or two, in relation to Arner’s gradual slowing of pace in the treble, Bisio played with the edge of his bow, instead of its width, to pull away from depth of the sonority for a bit. Then he applied the bow’s broadside again to submerge into rich, embracing tones. Bisio rounded out the sharpness of Arner’s retracing of thematic phrasing. A deconstruction of the tune ended the second piece.
The last piece of the set began with a Bisio solo. His bow moved to me and away from me. The series of tones he played interlocked into a velvet fabric of energy so smooth that the distance between the bowing and the coincidental fingering was undetectable. His large strokes mapped a seemingly endless journey to a distinct melodic line in which a low to high pitch movement introduced a synchronicity with the piano as it returned to the soundscape. Bisio goes nowhere except where he is at any one point. How he stretches the boundaries of his instrument is through his state of aural mind. How that transfer matches with Arner’s pianistic intelligence is one reason the musicians could so easily converge. Even in the silence, even in the blossoming of "Angel Eyes", I had the jitters. I counted the pulse the whole time.
Someone once wrote that music has to have meaning and, further, that music meaning itself is nonsensical. I disagree. Music may have meaning and music that means itself is music that is being explored for how its form can become its content. Music that means itself is music that has been crafted and honed to the quintessence that each individual musician can identify. The quintessence arises out of a strange simultaneity of involvement and detachment. At this concert was manifested that quintessence, times two.