Karl E. H. Seigfried | Criminal Mastermind

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Jazz: Free Jazz Avant Garde: Free Improvisation Moods: Featuring Bass
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Criminal Mastermind

by Karl E. H. Seigfried

Critically-acclaimed solo album from the Chicago bassist.
Genre: Jazz: Free Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Beneath the Underdog
4:36 $0.99
2. Mass Builder
5:16 $0.99
3. Ambient
13:38 $0.99
4. Low End Theory
9:15 $0.99
5. Today
4:30 $0.99
6. Philosopher's Requiem
8:15 $0.99
7. Hypnotize Minds
5:36 $0.99
8. Up From Mississippi
5:45 $0.99
9. Ancient to the Future
7:38 $0.99
10. I Am the Host
4:43 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Imaginary Chicago Records 002

Karl E. H. Seigfried is a very talented bassist with a lot to say, musically speaking. CRIMINAL MASTERMIND is his recording of (largely) free pieces for solo double bass. His technical prowess is great, and musically he is rich with compelling ideas.
The opening salvo is titled "Beneath the Underdog." This pizzicato ode to Charles Mingus is cool and bluesy--in addition to the Charles Mingus influence present here, I also detected shades of Bert Turetzy, so was not at all surprised to learn that Seigfried had studied with Turetzky. Seigfried follows this with "Mass Builder," which shows off his arco playing and his deep, rich sound, especially in the low register. This cut is characterized by great sweeping sounds, in and out of ponticello.
Throughout the album, Seigfried provides sonic and timbral variety by mixing up arco and pizzicato, as well as adding other colors by employing techniques such as ponticello, col legno, slapping the strings, and knocking on the body of the bass, to name a few. Additionally, he frequently utilizes double-stops, chords, and melodies over an open string drone, which serve to give texture and depth to this solo project, and are executed with enviable intonation. His musical influences, as heard in his playing, are many and varied: the listener will detect styles such as jazz, classical, old guitar-based rural blues (think Robert Johnson), perhaps even traditional Japanese music.
Each piece on this CD offeres the listener a different character to get to know. From the somber-toned tome titled "Today," to "Hypnotize Minds," with its emphasis on rhythm, to the final three pieces that make up Seigfried's "Malachi Favors Suite," there is a chance to hear the bassist exploring, reaching, and offering his findings.

Seigfried has played and taught bass in virtually all musical styles - from classical to avant garde jazz. CRIMINAL MASTERMIND reveals a first-rate improvising bass player with great chops, a penetrating sound, and some very interesting ideas. He also knows how to tell a story – the fact that CRIMINAL MASTERMIND sustained my interest throughout its nearly 70 minute duration is saying quite a bit.
The pieces are not all that abstract. Seigfried likes to muscle the bass around as if it were a large acoustic guitar. Folk-like themes crop up, and the blues is palpable even during Seigfried’s most edgy improvisations. He is fond of arco bass and uses the bow frequently, often switching back and forth between the fingers and the horsehair at crucial moments during his improvisations. He uses a wooden dowel to hit and bow the strings on ‘Ambient’ and ‘Hypnotize Minds’, generating some fascinating and unexpected timbres. ‘Ambient’ also captures police sirens and a ringing cell phone in the background.
I came away from “Criminal Mastermind” impressed – both with Seigfried’s talent as a bassist and an improvisor. Karl E. H. Seigfried is definitely a musician to watch and a huge asset to the already ultra-deep Chicago jazz scene.

This is a thoughtful and enjoyable contribution to the genre of the solo bass recital. Seigfried's activities span the classical and Jazz spheres, as well as many other fields, and they all come into play here: listen, for instance, to the heavy rock pieces "Ambient" and "Hypnotize Minds," where the bassist uses a col legno attack to mimic an electric-bass-and-drums onslaught. Most of the pieces, though, are aching folk-Blues melismas, in which Seigfried is never in a hurry to obscure the basic key centre. The results are like a virtuosic elaboration of the work of Charlie Haden, bedded in a stately, stoical beauty but yielding at times to giddy flurries of ornamentation. The standout performance is the three-part "Malachi Favors Suite," which begins with a hard-swinging Blues and ends with a squall of arco lines and a wild pizzicato coda. The bassist's honesty and musicality shine through, and that's enough to make this album worth hearing.

Seigfried is a well-known double bassist in the Chicago improv scene and his work here is of a solo improvised nature. Despite limiting himself to one instrument, one bow and four strings, he offers many approaches to ten improvised pieces. His sound is big and round and he is an accomplished arco player, although he uses the bow sparingly here. While one can tell this is a live recording, the sound of the bass isn’t compromised: both arco and pizzicato, fundamental and harmonic are well defined.
The final three pieces comprise the Malachi Favors Suite and are the most focused of the recording: the Delta blues in Up from Mississippi, seven minutes of various bowing techniques in Ancient to the Future, and some well-placed angst in I Am the Host. It’s all in loving dedication to fellow Chicagoan and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut. For those interested in solo improvised bass, this is a keeper.

Don't be fooled by the title: Karl E.H. Seigfried's CRIMINAL MASTERMIND is not gangsta rap. There are no guest appearances by Snoop Dogg on this album; nor are Dr. Dre, Master P or Mobb Deep anywhere to be found. The focus of Criminal Mastermind is avant-garde jazz—specifically, avant-garde jazz of the AACM variety, which is appropriate because Seigfried is based in Chicago. Seigfried does something very brave on this live recording: he plays unaccompanied acoustic solo bass. The words "unaccompanied acoustic solo bass" have a way of frightening and intimidating the more casual, less adventurous jazz listeners; it takes a truly hardcore jazz lover—someone with a genuinely deep appreciation of jazz—to not be scared away by the prospect of an acoustic bassist playing without any piano, drums, guitar or horns whatsoever, especially when the jazz in question is avant-garde. And for the true jazz lover, CRIMINAL MASTERMIND is a compelling listen. Sometimes, Seigfried plays with a bow; other times, he plucks. But either way, CRIMINAL MASTERMIND shows him to be a very expressive improviser who has a lot on his mind. Seigfried is not avant-garde in a harsh, confrontational, dense way; in true AACM fashion, he uses space effectively and plays material that is reflective and contemplative rather than totally in your face. Some avant-garde jazz is downright ferocious and—like a lot of death metal, techno and metalcore—proudly adheres to a scorched earth policy. But the artists of Chicago's AACM have generally been people who, for all their abstraction and free-form dialogue, did not view outside improvisation as an exercise in merciless brutality—and Seigfried clearly identifies with that mindset on these rewarding solo bass performances.

Up and coming Chicago bassist Karl E.H. Seigfried isn’t a household name in jazz circles, though he's gigged with some notable players. So it must have taken some guts to release a solo album. Here he displays an enviable technique and a well articulated musical vision. Whether implementing creaky arco lines or tapping and thumping his acoustic bass strings, Seigfried pays close attention to resonance and contrast. He projects a vivid sense of isolation when working through the lower registers, and keeps the surprise element alive by tossing in unanticipated treatments along the way. He ends the set with a three-part suite dedicated to the late, great Chicago bassist Malachi Favors.

Seigfried here does one of the ultimate high-wire acts: an entire album of solo acoustic bass. Very few players even try this. There’s a reason why, for instance, classical composers never really wrote for solo bass unlike, say, solo cello. And very few jazz bassists have ever done this either. It’s inherently hard making the bass not a background instrument for extended lengths of time. The free improv possibilities enlarge the possibilities and the palette more, though. And Seigfried come off pretty well. “Beneath the Underdog” is a nicely propulsive tip of the hat to the master Mingus, and “Mass Builder” essays existential bleakness without boring you, which isn’t easy to do. “Ambient” makes for a brainy sort of funk, and the pluckfest “Hypnotize Minds” is also a success. This record will appeal to very adventurous jazz and most free improv fans both, but there’s somewhat more appeal for the free music crowd. It makes you wonder if the old guys were missing something by not writing solo works for this instrument.

The title and cover of this one might make you think that Karl's going for a hardcore hip hop sound, but the record is completely different altogether--an album of solo bass work by Seigfried, played in an array of spare styles that seem to draw equal inspiration from the work of Malachi Favors and Arthur Russell. The Favors influence is clear here on the 3-part "Malachi Favors Suite"--a great extended number that has Karl playing in round, warm, spaciously creative tones that remind us of Favors at his most soulful. The Russell reference is perhaps one that we hear ourselves--but it's definitely there on some of the other tunes, which seem to echo out with a rhythmic impulse that reminds us of Arthur's spare solo sides from the mid 80s. Together, the tracks all have a freshly creative approach that shows a new side of the Chicago creative tradition.



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