Scott Worthington: Prism
Populist Records

Scott Worthington's 2014 release Even the Light Itself Falls features a single, ninety-minute piece performed by the double bassist with fellow et cetera members clarinetist Curt Miller and percussionist Dustin Donahue. Much about the work suggests a pronounced Morton Feldman influence, and the composer's presence is again felt on Worthington's Prism. If the trio release evidences minimalist properties, the new one does to an equal if not greater degree: though five settings of varying duration are presented, it's Worthington alone who's featured on the forty-four-minute recording, and, making the Feldman connection explicit, two versions of the short 2011 piece “Quintet (after Feldman)” appear. Don't, however, think that Worthington's vision is limited to a single composer: as a solo artist, he's commissioned material from many young composers, and he and his et cetera colleagues have performed works by John Cage and Earle Brown, among others. Still, there's no denying that the sensibility associated with Feldman is also central to Worthington's.

He's no doubt aware that the idea of an album-length collection of double bass playing is a bit of a hard sell and therefore does much to ensure that the material presented is constantly engaging. The Feldman-styled miniatures have been arranged for five double basses, the eleven-minute title track for three, and Worthington frames these settings with two long-form pieces arranged for double bass and electronics. In short, strategic differences in tone and presentation give the recording more variety than one might have expected from an album whose contents are essentially performed on a single instrument.

At almost seventeen minutes, “At Dusk” is the album's longest setting, even if it's dwarfed by the one on Even the Light Itself Falls. Using space as circumspectly as he did on the earlier release, Worthington alternates between bowing and plucking, the balletic flourishes of the former contrasting with the warm, single-note accents of the latter. As one might expect, electronics are audible but integrated subtly, their presence indicated by faint residues of shimmer that linger most noticeably in the spaces between the notes. Worthington gives form to the ponderous meditation through the incorporation of recurring motifs, a move that not only gives “At Dusk” a formal structure but staves off the kind of distractedness that can set in when material meanders without apparent purpose. Short, tentative statements inaugurate the title track, a setting of many moods and colours, before bowed chords give it a firmer foundation and occasionally a more animated, even turbulent character. Framing it, the two “Quintet (after Feldman)” variations blossom in seeming slow motion, with multiple layers of deep bowed tones overlapping in mathematical formation.

The most recent composition, 2012's “Reflections (in memoriam Stefano Scodanibbio),” conveys the character of a memento mori in the way its stately repetitions suggest prayer-like remembrance. Electronics are again present, though in this case they've been used to generate a low-pitched, humming drone over which a single double bass muses. It's a special kind of musician who can hold the listener's attention for an entire recording using a single instrument; by working subtle differences into the five pieces, Worthington manages to do just that on this excellent follow-up to his 2014 release.

October 2015