Few are the bass players who the average music fan can name. There are simply not that many who stand out as more than a member of the rhythm section, however tight. Paul McCartney. Sting. Bootsy Collins. Tony Levin. Gene Simmons. These may be the greater part of a list that, for most, is no larger than one hand long. Shorter still is the list of bassists who can take their playing one step further. Brian Bromberg is one such bass player. Having originally begun his musical career on drums, Bromberg soon switched to classical upright bass. Though this switch was more or less his choice, Bromberg's next musical move was more demanded than decided: in order to get a gig with Stan Getz's band, Bromberg dropped the upright, picked up an electric four-string and, leaving home on his 19th birthday, started down his own musical road less taken.
Noted as a "maximalist" for his densely textured, intricately constructed serial works, Brian Ferneyhough is a challenging composer by any standard, and his uncompromising and intensely demanding scores are some of the most original of the late avant-garde. In such complicated chamber works as Funérailles I (1969-1977) and Funérailles II (1969-1980), both versions for seven strings and harp, Ferneyhough presents thickets of notes and short gestures that are tightly organized, but so abrupt and pointillistic that the lay listener may mistake them as random fragments, not at all as recurring ideas. Similarly, in the rhythmically layered Bone Alphabet for percussion (1991) and the angular Unsichtbare Farben (Invisible Colors) for solo violin (1999), the ear can only take in the surfaces of the music, having no way to grasp the underlying patterns that are employed. Yet it would be a mistake to think these pieces are just cerebral exercises, since Ferneyhough is too good a composer to pass off intellectual doodles as serious work. While there are designs in these pieces only a theoretician may comprehend and abrasive sonorities only a die-hard modernist may love, there are points of tension and release that are easily perceived, and textures and timbres that a prepared listener may appreciate without too much strain.