Generally, I rarely listen to solo recordings. This is because almost everything that excites me about jazz and improvisation is centered around the interaction between two or more distinct musical personalities. As with everything in life, there are exceptions. A brief list of the very greatest jazz / improvised solo works in my collection would include ‘Solo Cello’ by Abdul Wadud, ‘Alone’ - Doug Hammond’s solo LP, several of Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo piano discs, and Roland Young’s ‘Isophonic Boogie’.
At first, I did not realize that Karl Seigfried’s self-produced "Criminal Mastermind" CD was a recording of solo acoustic bass pieces. The silly ‘tough guy’ cover art & title suggests that this could be a hip-hop or spoken word CD. The sparse info on the CD itself just says "All Music Composed and Performed by Karl E. H. Seigfried" - leading me to believe that "Criminal Mastermind" could be an overdubbed ‘one man band’ type project. Finally, it was the track titles that told the real story, with references to Mingus, Malachi Favors, and the low end of the frequency spectrum.
Seigfried, it turns out, is on the music faculty at Western Illinois University and has played and taught bass in virtually all musical styles - from classical to avant garde jazz. "Criminal Mastermind" reveals a first-rate improvising bass player with great chops, a penetrating sound, and some very interesting ideas. He also knows how to tell a story - the fact that "Criminal Mastermind" sustained my interest throughout its nearly 70 minute duration is saying quite a bit.
The pieces are not all that abstract. Seigfried likes to muscle the bass around as if it were a large acoustic guitar. Folk-like themes crop up, and the blues is palpable even during Seigfried’s most edgy improvisations. He is fond of arco bass and uses the bow frequently, often switching back and forth between the fingers and the horsehair at crucial moments during his improvisations. He uses a wooden dowel to hit and bow the strings on ‘Ambient’ and ‘Hypnotize Minds’, generating some fascinating and unexpected timbres. ‘Ambient’ also captures police sirens and a ringing cell phone in the background.
Though varied in approach, most of Seigfried’s compositions and improvisations seem to be taken at more or less the same set of slow-to-moderate tempi. I found this to be a bit taxing over the length of the entire CD, though the strong melodic content and shifting textures of Seigfried’s slowly unfolding ruminations counteract the relatively static rhythms. I came away from "Criminal Mastermind" impressed - both with Seigfried’s talent as a bassist and an improvisor. Karl E. H. Seigfried is definitely a musician to watch and a huge asset to the already ultra-deep Chicago jazz scene.