Black Truffle is pleased to announce The Leisure Principle, a new solo LP from London-based bassist and sound artist Otto Willberg. A key player in the London underground, Willberg is often heard on acoustic and electric bass in free improv settings and bands with Laurie Tompkins (Yes Indeed) and Charles Hayward (Abstract Concrete), as well as the fractured No Wave unit Historically Fucked. His previous solo releases have ranged from extended technique double bass to explorations of the acoustics of a 19th century artillery fort. But nothing Willberg has committed to wax so far prepares a listener for The Leisure Principle, six unashamedly melodic improvisational workouts created almost entirely with heavily filtered bass harmonica and electric bass.
On the opening ‘Reap What Thou Sow’, a single-note bass harmonica loop pulses along underneath a roaming bass solo, the side-chained envelope filtering (where the dynamic behaviour of the bass determines the filter for both bass and harmonica) fusing the two instruments into a single stream of burbling shifts in resonance. After several minutes of patient exploration of this low-end landscape, the music suddenly opens up in widescreen with the entrance of Sam Andreae’s graceful melodica chords, spreading out across the stereo field. From this epic opener, each of the remaining pieces goes on to explore a slightly different aspect of the terrain. On ‘Shadow Came into the Eyes as Earth Turned on its Axis’, a similarly buoyant harmonica bass line provides the foundation, but this time playing a soulful descending riff, its almost R&B feel abstracted and half-obscured by the filtering. On ‘Mollusk’, echoed bass arpeggios skitter between elegiac chords somewhat reminiscent of the opening of John Abercrombie’s ‘Timeless’, before settling into a hypnotic groove.
On the record’s second half, Willberg pushes further into the possibilities of his idiosyncratic instrumentation. On ‘Wetter’, bass and harmonica come together into a monstrous, growling jaw harp; on ‘Had we but world enough and more time’, the subtly shifting pulsating patterns start to feel almost like a kind of evaporated, drum-less dub techno until an eruption of wheezing bass harmonica gives the piece a comically folkish turn. Willberg’s melodically inventive and virtuosic bass performance calls to mind any number of fusion touchstones, from Jaco Pastorius to Mark Egan’s singing tone in the early Pat Metheny Group—even Anthony Jackson’s work with Steve Kahn. But with its radically reduced instrumentation, The Leisure Principle is also an exercise in minimalism, and the absence of percussion gives even its funkiest moments a strangely abstracted quality. At times, its uncanny blend of the abstruse and the immediate suggests the fried pop experiments of David Rosenboom or the skewed but deeply musical DIY of 80s underground groups like De Fabriek. Both easy on the ear and profoundly strange, The Leisure Principle proudly takes its place among the most eccentric offerings on the Black Truffle menu.