John Edwards long ago became the double bassist of choice in London. Tony Bevan, John Butcher, Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker, Eddie Prevost, Spring Heel Jack, John Wall, Alex Ward, Veryan Weston and Alan Wilkinson all call upon him regularly. When Wadada Leo Smith, John Tchicai and Sunny Murray came to town, Edwards was in the band each time. These days he seems to be ever present at free jazz and improv gigs in the capital, to the extent that if he isn’t the bassist at a gig, punters worry that something better is happening and they should be elsewhere…
All of which is justified fully by Edwards’ performances. As a rhythm player, he has the knack of generating momentum, propelling the music forward by simultaneously pushing and pulling. When the spotlight falls on him, Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde. He becomes a hyperactive soloist, prepared to do anything to his bass to produce the desired sound: he will weave a drumstick between the strings to produce a particular sound; his fingers fly up and down the neck; he strums, plucks and bows all over the strings, including below the bridge and above the head; he uses the neck and body of his bass as a percussion instrument, beating out rhythms on them with his hands or bow. (OK, “Mr. Hyde” is probably unjust; Edwards more often displays an endearingly impish sense of humor reminiscent of a cartoon character – more Dennis the Menace.)
In a discography already well into three figures, this album is Edwards’ first solo outing. The closest he has come previously was the fine Nisus Duets (Emanem, 2002) with drummer Mark Sanders, his frequent playing partner in many groups. On that album, Edwards is often in the foreground, particularly when employing his bow. On Volume, Edwards leans more toward his solo playing than his rhythm playing, although there are plenty of examples of the latter: on “Sprung” he generates a swinging bass line with a rhythmic drive that would have made Ray Brown proud… then, when it fizzles out, he produces another one just as good.
“Tunnel” begins with a prolonged bowed drone that is full-bodied and metallic, serving as a reminder that Edwards (in partnership with Evan Parker and Paul Hession) was one of the star turns of the 2007 Free Noise tour (which also featured Yellow Swans, John Wiese and C. Spencer Yeh). Once the bowed drone subsides, Edwards indulges in some playing that totally contrasts with it, both quieter and more episodic, before closing the piece with a low-key drone that morphs into a brief reprise of the opening noisefest. Altogether, a typically beautifully structured piece.
Lists of favorite solo bass albums tend to be short, for good reason; they can be hard work, too many having an emphasis on pushing the envelope of technique – they often seem made for appreciation by other bassists. Not so here. My own list includes Barry Guy’s Symmetries, Peter Kowald’s Was Da Ist, Barre Phillips’ Call Me When You Get There, Mark Dresser’s Unveil … and now John Edwards’ Volume.