Welcome to "HIRU", my third album as a leader. HIRU is a steady step in the way. It is the first recording where I begin to experiment finding my own voice as a double bassist. It is also the first text I write about my research on improvisation based on the Basque musical style.
My work is based on three aspects of Basque music to improvise:
The melodies and metrics of the Bertsos (verses improvised by the Bertsolaris).
The rhythms of Zortziko and the Dantzari Dantza (ensemble of dances from Durango, Bizkaia) which I danced in my youth.
Traditional melodies or specific authors that are inspired by the Basque musical tradition.
In this recording, I count on the invaluable collaboration of an exceptional musician, the pianist Juan Ortiz, who from the very beginning was deeply attracted by the idea of playing a music based on these roots. The process has required reflection and contention when improvising, seeking a stable and honest balance between jazz and the music resources of Euskal Herria (Basque Country).
I defend this improvisational approach based on our roots, and I encourage Basque musicians to investigate about it. It is for this reason that I explain my way of focusing the solos. This is just a first step, which I hope will lead me to express myself in any musical context without losing my roots and this way to be able to contribute to other music styles.
1 – Mendian Gora (“Mountain Up”, Xabier Amuriza & Imanol Larzabal)
Thinking about how to play this beautiful song, I had to spend time thinking in possible changes in harmony to finally leave it just as it is. This is a recording made of spaces, of nudity, so necessary to connect with the base, and from there express ourselves with sincerity.
3:30. I start the solo inspired in the melody of "Ihesa Zilegi Balitz" by Xenpelar (known by me through Mikel Laboa).
3:54. I continue the solo, this time starting from the rhythmic and accentuation of the Ezpata Dantza (dance with swords). In this album there are several mentions to the dance, as I was part of the companies of Anai Artea and Ibarrakaldu in my hometown, Barakaldo (Bizkaia).
4:06. I return to the melody of Xenpelar, closing a cycle in the solo.
4:30. I start a phrase based on the first interval of the melody of Mendian Gora. I take it as a melodic motif and I vary it while I go up on the instrument.
5:26. At this point, I improvise in the rhythm of Zortziko. I perform an adaptation (metric modulation) on the ternary pulse of the subject. I do not play the Zortziko in 5/8 (as it is usually written in score), but I play in the mood of the dance. It is, in the end, my way of playing the Zortziko, influenced by the dance and the melodies I learned. In this way, I adapt the rhythm to the bar in an organic way.
5:39. I finish the solo with the melody (as Juan has done before me).
2 – Nere Izarra (“My Star”, Iparragirre)
We played the Zortziko of Iparragirre with a cheerful mood. Once again, my way of playing it is totally influenced by the dance. This makes us not to think of a particular measure (it is neither 5/8 nor 4/4 nor 3/4). Juan accompanies me initially playing the accents of the Zortziko, to later release the pattern in his solo. I keep myself in the pattern and groove of the Zortziko.
In my solo, you can feel the accentuation of this rhythm. Once again, I finish the solo with the melody.
3 - Makil Dantza (“Stick Dance”)
I really wanted to record with Juan taking this dance as a starting point. It is one of the dances that I remember most of my time as a dancer. The bass intro is based on the melody in a free way. After the intro, we went to a piano solo with a lot of counterpoint in the bass. We wanted to play freely over the the melody and rhythm of this dance, remembering the last phrase of the melody at every turn of the song.
In the minute 2:00, Juan plays the melody while I support it with the kicks of the dance, which are performed with the Makilas (sticks). Listening to the recording, I realize that sometimes I imitate the sound of the sticks with the bass, playing two strings at a time, looking for the sensation of the "knock" of the stick, rather than the tuned note (I imagine the double bass as a “makila”).
4-Liliak Ihes (“Fleeing Lilies”)
This is to date my only Zortziko. The magnificent lyric, full of lyricism, is the work of my friend and great actor Josean Bengoetxea. Same as in “Nere Izarra”, the ostinato of the double bass gives support to a very expressive solo by Juan. The short bass solo gives way to part B of the song, maintaining a structure influenced by the jazz standards.
5 – Nire Lehen Bertsoa (“My First Verse”)
As the title recites, this is my first verse, even with no lyrics. The structure corresponds to a “bertso” called “Zortziko Handia”, since it consists of eight points (phrases) of ten and eight syllables.
I start my solo (2:21) playing the traditional melody of "Bentara Noa", which coincides in metric with the theme (this I have discovered later, so there has been a happy unconscious and natural, unplanned inspiration). I vary the melody by adapting to the harmony of the theme (2:38). At 2:44 I improvise on the rhythm of Zortziko. I go back to the original metric in 2:55.
6 –Betroiarenak (traditional)
This is a well known Basque verse, "9 Puntukoa" type. I start with a free bass intro, while the melody begins to glimpse (0:18). At 0:50 the influence of the traditional dance is perceptible again, since I play a part of the melody of "Banango" (one of the dances conforming the “Dantzari Dantza”). I finish the intro with a characteristic verse closing.
I realized that this type of verses match perfectly with the typical AABA structure in so many popular songs. A popular AABA jazz structure is the Rhythm Changes, based on a well-known song by George Gershwin. We take advantage of the harmony and structure of the rhythm changes to play and improvise this song. The idea is similar to that of our version of “Makil Dantza”: we improvise with the melody in our heads. At the end (3:42), Juan plays the last bars of the melody, to which I join.
7-Urxapal Bat (Etxahun)
When I heard the recordings made by Ximun Haran in Iparralde I was deeply impressed. This one in particular touched my soul. I was very attentive to the depth with which Lohidoy sings, the articulation of his voice and the spaces left between the verses.
Due to the untempered tuning of the singers from Iparralde, Juan proposed me to record with a keyboard of the 80’s, with the possibility to tune it in any frequency and an organic sound that matches very well with the voice recording. Once the keyboard was recorded (this is the only theme recorded in two separate shots), I found serious doubts about what I would be able to contribute to it. I was about to not even record the bass, but animated by my fellows, I put myself to it. I must admit that I held to a peculiar resource of Ron Carter, playing with glissandos and leaving a lot of space…
This document would be incomplete if I do not share the conclusions that have aroused to me in this period of artistic reflection, which result is this recording. I expose here, from the absolute humility but also from a great conviction and hope, the ideas that I summarize in a very brief personal artistic manifesto to approach the improvisation as Basque artist, which is applicable to any musician aware of its roots:
Take the melodies, the metrics of the Basque verses and dances as a starting point for improvisation.
Practise this way of improvising in every musical context, adapting the discourse to the different styles, rhythms and harmonies.
Let improvisation be fed by the rest of the music, but do not lose the reference of your roots in your discourse.