Press reviews Peter Kowald - Bass Solo

The furious solo of bassplayer Peter Kowald pointed in the right direction. The Wuppertaler, who helped to free the double bass in the early years of Free Jazz, has long since achieved perfect mastership. Dynamically he builds up complete sound patterns, emerging swing is nipped in the bud, merely grammalogues of motifs are an integral part in his free play...


The distinct feeling for proportions, the manifold of stylistic methods and the sincerity of the artistic mission, which does not allow the virtuoso techiques to be reduced to simple gags, all of this maintained an arc of suspense during the enormous length of the improvisation...

Barely a sound that Peter Kowald creates could be comitted to paper. The musician is an admiror of dissonance, of the fleeting and unique. He has something to say. But he is not willing to talk... All of his grips are masterly. He posseses a remarkable technique of the bow, which he has enriched with a series of his own entirely unorthodox methods...

In Portikus, this small clear room for concerts and exhibitions, which always exhales an atmosphere of high concentration, Peter Kowald starts to let the low-pitch register of his doublebass vibrate with ceaseless strokes of the bow, then structures slightly rhythmically and varies the di, tri and multiple notes to melodious shifts, gets poliphonic overtones out of the flageolet, which remain in vibrating harmonies, in order to, before being able to assert the harmonic unbrokenness of the world, be destroyed by a rasant determined pluck of the bow...

It was Peter Kowald who on Sunday afternoon opened "20 years FMP" in the Chamber Music Hall with one of the most compact bass solos to be heard in our town in the last years. By singing along with bowed passages in low pitches at the beginning and the end, Kowald gave an impression of completeness to his piece. He let no second of idle motion develop in the course of his very long solo, varied the themes of the piece partly by surprising quickness and was bewildering again and again by abrupt transitions from bowed to plucked passages.

Peter Kowald is perhaps the greatest living solo bass improvisor

Readers may have raised eyebrows at the very high ratings for this relatively little known musician (as far as straight jazz is concerned, at any rate), but they should be reassured, that such marks do accurately reflect Kowald´s historical importance in the development of European free music...

On Saturday evening at the Chopin Theater, a standing-room-only crowd heard an astonishing solo performance from bassist Peter Kowald. To assert that Kowald creates new techniques for producing unfamiliar sounds on doublebass would be an understatement. The man effectively transforms the instrument using his bow, his voice and his phenomenal finger technique to create unprecedented sonic effects and ideas. Performing an extended and uninterrupted solo that lasted nearly an hour, Kowald created a cutting-edge work that nevertheless evoked the shape and the structure of a Bach chaconne. Like that baroque form, Kowald´s improvised piece had its share of majestic arpeggios, pedal-point bass notes and the illusion of several melodic lines going at once. Within this classic form, however, Kowald articulated melodic lines and harmonic structures unimagined a decade ago, let alone in Bach´s era. Kowald´s fleet passagework may have suggested the arpeggiated passages of the early 18th Century, but the pitches often were microtonal, the harmonies well beyond the standard Western vocabulary. What´s more, Kowald used his bow ingeniously as a percussive device, lodging it between the strings so that it tapped the instrument in a relentless was Kowald who left the most profund impression.

Kowald´s hourlong solo set on Saturday at the Chopin was an astonishing display of endurance and triumphant intuition. His intense combination of bow and bare-nuckles was the apotheosis of the AACM and FMP members’ longtime work in developing unaccomanied open-ended improvisation.

Mr. Kowald´s improvisation worked with techniques. He bent two strings together and bowed them. He stuck his bow between strings and strummed. He quietly struck harmonics or played several notes at once, percussively. Sometimes he plucked beyond the bridge of the instrument. The full house gave him a standing ovation (Vision For The 21st Century Arts Festival New York).

The highly concentrated and competent audience experienced a phantastic solo performance, as we didn´t have a chance to enjoy since a long time... With his extremely variable technic of the bow or plucked PeterKowald drew from his double bass not only virtuoso and very complex soundstructures or tonesuccessions, but also simple minimalistic ones. He knew remarkebly well how to combine these conceptually in a highly dramatic manner, to handle tensions in a refined way thanks to his great sensitivity for form and feeling for time. The enthusiastic applause gave those the lie, who assert that especially the father founders of Free Jazz got stuck in the developement. In opposite, Peter Kowald as an experienced pastmaster demonstrated that the roots of this genre have not been wearied out and that the younger generation can moreover learn plenty from people like him.