Noah Fishman: “Balafon del Sur” by Gabriel Chakarji

Today we’re beginning a three-part series of videos by Noah Fishman. Each clip is the premiere of a new composition for electric bass.

Noah shared the story behind the music:

Early in the pandemic, with plenty of time on my hands, I reflected on my early days of learning the electric bass. I grew up with iconic songs like ‘Portrait of Tracy’, ‘A Show of Hands’, and ‘School Days’. Inspired by memories of learning songs that celebrate the electric bass, I began searching for new pieces.

As I finished my graduate program at the University of Michigan, and the pandemic intensified, I applied for a grant from the school’s EXCEL Lab. With the resulting funds, I commissioned three fantastic musicians to each write me a short work for solo electric bass.

First in the series is “Balafon del Sur” by Gabriel Chakarji. I met Gabriel a few years ago when I interviewed him for the blog Jazz Speaks. When I began reaching out to composers about this bass project, Gabriel’s rhythmic and melodic voice jumped to mind. I remembered a piece Gabriel had written for his own group. It was complex, energetic, full of clear ideas, and defined by his personal approach to the Caribbean and South American sound.

According to Gabriel, the piece he wrote for me is “inspired by the West African ‘Bala’ and its indirect influence in the music of South American and Caribbean countries including the Colombian Currulao and the Cuban Changüí. This composition explores this ancestral musical journey through the electric bass.”

“Balafon del Sur” was a fun challenge, and so rewarding once I internalized it. It has a great section for improvisation too. I knew Gabriel had written some sections on the piano, but he had a good feel for the range and limits of the bass. Many of the long phrases and wide arpeggios fit under my hands… but just barely! I had to tune my low B string up to a D for the introduction and ending, a workaround that ended up being surprisingly convenient. Stay tuned for the next new bass piece in the series.

Fishman is a multidimensional performer, composer, arranger, and educator. For more information visit his website.

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