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Zach Wallace has a real fondness for long tones and drones, whether he's playing bass in the fantastic trio Memorize the Sky with reedist Matt Bauder and percussionist Aaron Siegel or using vocal chants, bowed strings, organ, and primitive flutes in the hippie-ish duo Sun Circle with Greg Davis. He's clearly a meditative sort of musician.
His recently released solo debut, Glass Armonica (Root Strata), is a vibrant expression of this love for drone. The title comes from an instrument designed by Benjamin Franklin in 1761: Captivated by a glass performance he'd seen in England four years earlier, Franklin came up with an instrument that would provide greater and richer harmonies than the usual wine-glass orchestra, which uses glasses of different shapes and sizes filled with varying amounts of water and "played" by rubbing a moistened finger along the rim. He made central holes in glass bowls of different sizes and threaded them onto a horizontal rod that's spun by a foot-pumped flywheel.
I could only find one image of the glass armonica Wallace adapted and built (that's it above). He bought his glassware in thrift stores and repurposed lumber and hardware to make the rest of the instrument. It can be played by as many as a dozen people at once, but for the three stunning tracks on his CD, recorded in the spring of 2007 at the Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Wallace was joined by only three other players.
I imagine most folks have tried the wine-glass trick while a dinner party was winding down, so you can probably imagine the lovely tone of ringing glass. But Wallace's device also delivers a stunning richness of overtones: within its steady drone there are endless variations, looping and slowly transmogrifying cycles that sound a bit like a wobbling tone from a record pressed off-center. I've listened to this CD four times now, and each spin has pulled me in deeper and deeper into Wallace's exquisite sound world.
You can get a little taste of the album here on the Root Strata site.
Charles Mingus, A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry (Bethlehem/Shout Factory)
Frank Denyer, Silenced Voices (Mode)
James Blackshaw, Lost Prayers and Motionless Dances (Tompkins Square)
Astor Piazzolla, Piazzolla . . . o No? (Sony/BMG, Argentina)
Bruno Råberg, Lifelines (Orbis)