Review BY LEAH HARRISON Special to The Post and Courier
If the double bass is supposed to be heavy, low, and cast in a supporting role, Renaud Garcia-Fons didn’t get the memo. Tuesday night, on a stage bathed in a pink, web-like projection, Garcia-Fons took his audience on a world tour, producing the sounds of a dozen cultures through unconventional technique.
Garcia-Fons began with a modal opening reminiscent of an Islamic prayer call, his fingers flitting effortlessly over the instrument’s neck. The strength and skill it takes to play the bass in a traditional way pale in comparison to Garcia-Fons’s blistering technique — he is on the scale of an Olympian. The fluidity and ease with which he bows, plucks, bounces and buzzes obscure the muscle required to accomplish those feats. His stage demeanor is quiet and relaxed, the bass an extension of his personality.
He played music inspired by traditions from France, Spain, Italy, Iran, Ireland and the U.S., often doubling looped recordings of himself, activated by pedals on stage. The works he performed without self-accompaniment better captured the purity of his endeavor, and though the recordings were well-executed, they detracted from the overall experience. What Garcia-Fons does is unique and skilled enough. There’s no need for the filler. A canned sound simply cannot compete with the live, rich resonance of a bass, especially one played so expertly.
Garcia-Fons’s aesthetic is eclecticism itself, and he blends various cultures together beautifully. At times, his tremolo-like pluck sounds like a Flamenco guitar; other times, he conjures an Irish jig; at one point, he wove a piece of paper between the five strings (he has an added high C) to reproduce the resonance he associates with music from Burundi.
But Garcia-Fons doesn’t only appropriate; he transcends time, sometimes bowing arpeggios heard in so many of J.S. Bach’s cello works, other times using Deep Purple or the Delta Blues for inspiration. He is at once pithy and lyrical, reminding the listener of both Top 40 radio and the pit orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera.
This music can be likened to aural yoga, combining relaxation and great strength.
It’s as if each of Garcia-Fons’ fingers has its own dexterity, each one functioning on its own.
This unique performance was a treat for its listeners, and a rare exhibit of so many cultures. Garcia-Fons’ ethnomusicological tour won’t soon be forgotten.