Album Title: La Linea del Sur
Performer: Renaud Garcia-Fons
Label and album #: Enja 9527 2
Play Time:
Recorded: 2009

Among believers, Renaud Garcia-Fons is the greatest living master of the upright 5-string double bass. 'Greatest' of course needs a stylistic qualifier to be sensible. The demands of classical and Jazz for example are quite different and mastery of one rarely ever implies the other.

The virtuosity, pitch accuracy and tone this French man displays are of such otherworldly caliber that the inability to shoehorn him stylistically matters little. Like Andreas Vollenweider did for the electric harp, he has developed new techniques to play the instrument. This only adds to the general RGF allure and astonishment over how agile, lyrical and broad a range the double bass can be played to become a bona fide solo instrument easily on par with the violin and cello.

Whether Jazz-style plucked pizzicato, classically bowed, spiccato hammered to mimic Flamenco rasgueado attacks or flageolet to coax soaring treble tones from seemingly beyond a bass, it's all in a tune's work for Garcia-Fons. Fluent in all manner of musical styles, the syntax he has explored over more than five albums on Enja under his own name has built bridges between the Mediterranean Rim, Latin America, Flamenco and Jazz. Formations have been trio and quartet settings and expanded outings with up to seven artists.

For La Linea del Sur, it's quartet time with David Venitucci on accordion, Kiko Ruiz on flamenco guitar and Pascal Rollando on percussion. The Flamenco cantaora Esperanza Fernandez guest-stars on three numbers, with lyrics adapted from the Persian mystic Mevlana Rumi.

And once again, the result is a cosmic melange of intricate rhythms, intersecting high-speed jagged runs, advanced ensemble work, far-out muscular melodies twisting and turning through thematic developments. It's his own instantly recognizable musical language but always enhanced by those collaborators who join him on specific projects.

La Linea del Sur continues the vein tapped in Oriental Bass, Navigatore and Arcoluz, with a big helping of rambunctious uptempo numbers that like "Veré" often lead into elegiac interludes before unleashing incredibly precise torrents of percussive ensemble attacks again. The unexpected new element are Esperanza's vocals.

And as is tradition, there's a gorgeous number dedicated to the singing con arco qualities of Renaud's huge instrument that turn it into a cello on steroids. Here it's "Cante del Barco". The accordeon provides floating chord pedals to set off the intensely soulful vibrato of the bowed bass in a celebration of melody and saturated tone without rhythmic accompaniment of any sort. If Garcia-Fons ever decided to issue an album of just such melodic islands and called it Singing Bass, it'd be a sensation on the order of Pat Metheny's Missouri Skies. For connoisseurs of the bassist, La Linea del Sur is business as usual, meaning an unblemished successor to the last album. For newcomers, it'll be a demanding headscratcher, like meeting a real alien at your local supermarket. There's only one man on the planet who plays the bass like this - and he keeps going from album to album without any signs of running out of things to say anytime soon. Monstrous...