Notes from Bass Players for Black Composers’ Second Anniversary Concert

Greenpoint Avenue is empty this Monday evening. Golden hour sun rays reflect off of metallic warehouse roofs and gas station pumps, glistening against a pile of parked, slightly disheveled semi trucks. I round the corner onto a street of aging brick warehouses. I see a group of people huddling outside of one of the buildings and I know I’ve arrived: This is the (sort of) new home of MISE-EN_PLACE, a Brooklyn venue dedicated to presenting cutting-edge new music that moved from Bushwick to Greenpoint at the end of 2019. Tonight, they’re presenting the two-year anniversary concert of Bass Players for Black Composers, an organization amplifying double bass music written by Black composers.

I wave hello to someone I recognize, joining the hang outside before I step in. Familiar faces continue to arrive. See, when you’re attending “new music” events, strangers become friendly faces pretty quickly. We see each other at shows; even if we’ve never said hello, we’ve probably seen each other once or twice. By the end of the night, maybe we’ll make a new friend or two, too. 

Tonight’s concert is a celebration. Over the course of their two years, Bass Players for Black Composers has commissioned a variety of new works and hosted a slew of online and in person events. Tonight, they showcase that work to an enthusiastic audience. The room, a white-walled space, is full, save for the front row, which people are shy to populate. There are four works scheduled for tonight’s concert—a live improvisation and three commissioned pieces, including a world premiere—but one ended up getting canceled. It’s a short but engaging event, propelled by the music as much as the friendship surrounding it. 

Interdisciplinary artist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Darian Donovan Thomas opens the evening solo violin and electronics that experiment with different transformations of the violin’s sound. He begins with a series of looped, interlocking harmonics that have a light, airy texture, as if they’re drifting through the clouds. Spiky plucks slice through those gossamer waves, ushering in a new section of reverb-laden chords that fill the room with warm, lush sound. Towards the end, Thomas’ violin morphs again, this time into a cyborg-esque instrument whose beeps range from glittering twinkles to robotic hums. What’s captivating about this set is how Thomas uncovers the violin’s chameleonic possibilities, exploring the instrument’s characteristic sweet, singing melodies as well as new trajectories.

Bassist Dara Blumenthal-Bloom plays next. She performs Alaap in Raag Des by Sophia J Bass, which was composed in 2021. Bass studies Hindustani Classical music and tabla performance, and this piece highlights her work by uniting an electronic drone with resonant bass plucks. It’s understated music, music that floats at a glacial pace, channeling a sense of tranquility through tumbling melodies and wavering motion.

The evening closes with bassist Will Yager’s premiere of Daijana Wallace’s DENSITY, a high voltage piece that jolts us out of the prior performance’s stillness. Bristling plucks open the work with fervor. Bowed melodies interject between these powerful strikes, but they aren’t lyrical. Instead, they’re marked by scratchy, quiet sounds that are more textural than pitch-oriented. The music is all about extreme contrasts—full-bodied plucks versus the raspy melodies, squealing, high-pitched harmonics versus sonorous phrases. It’s a whirlwind. I’m caught up in every little motion of the sound, following it as it darts from one end of the sonic spectrum to the other. 

It’s dusk now, hazy gray-blue light filters through the long room’s main window, over the warehouse rooftops and into the space. I’m watching the light change as the night goes on, from golden rays to moonlight. As the music comes to its end, we start socializing again—the event organizers encourage it. I have to leave, so I miss out. But even as I’m walking home by myself, I can’t help but feel a little lighter from a concert of friendly faces. Music is about music, but it’s also about the people you enjoy music with, after all.