Every so often I stumble upon a musician who is totally captivating and I want to tell the world. I have now listened to many of this extraordinary double-bass player's albums and I keep coming back... So much has been written about Renaud Garcia-Fons, there is little point in doing so here. A simple google will tell you about his Spanish-French heritage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaud_Garcia-Fons, his classical training and Jazz and multi-ethnic Mediterranean inspirations, his 5 string bass and his extraordinary technique and inventiveness, both in a group and solo. His ability to captivate an audience in solo performance and how his recordings continue to evolve and entrance. This review on 6 Moons is typical http://6moons.com/musicreviews/2009_may/lalinea.html . I personally like "Oriental Bass" the best... but do yourself a favour and have a listen! (ps. sadly, missed him when he was in Melbourne last year...)
"WHEN double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons was the tender age of 16, he fell in love - hook, line and sinker. The only difference between his story and those of other teenage boys in Paris in the 1970s is that the creature of his dreams happened to be six feet tall and made of wood.
Still, he knew within the first few moments of plucking the strings that this was the instrument he'd been looking for, he says down a crackly phone line in a French accent, thick and rich. Years of lessons on the piano and classical guitar had left him frustrated; he wanted to be a musician but they hadn't made his blood rush. While his fingers could perform the mechanics, his heart was not stirred. Now it was racing: he ran back to his home in the north of Paris, excitement pumping his lungs; he had found what he'd been looking for.
The affaire de coeur, which was to catapult him to international stardom and brings him to Australian shores in June for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, started after a chance meeting backstage at a concert. Garcia-Fons' brother had a friend who played the double bass and was appearing at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The teenager visited his dressing room before the show to say bonjour and while he was there had a go on the instrument. He had it for only a few minutes but it was enough. ''I fell in love. There is no logical explanation … I felt it inside of me, it was instinctive. I knew this was the instrument I had to play.''
Two days later he had rented one from a shop. It was full size and enormous; he was small and skinny - they were an unlikely combination. Garcia-Fons' parents were naturally worried; where would all this lead? But his mother couldn't resist his enthusiasm and his father, an artist, understood what it was like to feel driven. Practice was difficult; the size of the thing meant he was limited to only 15 minutes at a time. After two years he could afford a better instrument and soon he was practising five or six hours a day.
Garcia-Fons attended the Paris Conservatory of Music and became the private student of the esteemed Syrian bassist and composer Francois Rabbath, whom he credits as the man who created the solo voice for the instrument. By 21 he was winning competitions and had been awarded a diploma by the French minister for culture as professor of double bass. Right from the start he was determined that his love interest was going to be more than just the bass line in a jazz ensemble. ''My dreams make me go to other instruments … the violin, flamenco guitar. I was not stuck in the traditional image.''
These days a Renaud Garcia-Fons performance is to watch a virtuoso in action. With his beetle-black brows furrowed in concentration, his hands scuttle like spiders up, down and across the strings with ferocious speed. Occasionally, they turn into percussion, transforming the instrument into a snare drum. His bowing techniques have left audiences boggle-eyed, the tip bouncing off the strings at warp speed before giving way to soulful glissandos and clarion double stops. Using electronic effects, he sounds like a classical violist one minute and a scorching guitarist the next, which has led to comparisons to many, from Paganini to Jimi Hendrix.
Garcia-Fons shrugs off such plaudits and instead pays tribute to the breadth and scope of the double bass. ''I very quickly realised that with this instrument you have two in one. You have the beat playing with the fingers and you have the bow playing like a cello. You can play the accompaniment but also melodies, leads and solos.''
He describes himself as autodidactic in his approach to learning; despite his earlier training, like Hendrix and heroes such as Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, he has advanced the possibility of his instrument by himself. He says this has liberated him from the technical limitations in favour of greater freedom to improvise.
Since he was a boy, he has listened to classical, jazz flamenco and South American music, all of which he has thrown into the melting pot. He draws repeatedly on his Catalan roots. At one point he added a fifth string to the bass, which, he says, has given him greater scope for melodies and some very high notes (but also makes bowing more difficult).
Garcia-Fons hears polyphonically, in that music has many sounds or voices. Like a gypsy, he roams the sonic landscape bringing back a palette of tonal colours from the shores of the Mediterranean across the Arabian Gulf to India, China and Asia before returning home, the boundaries of music collapsing in his wake.
He is still skinny; how does he coax such sounds from such a big and unwieldy instrument?
''You have to play like a cat, you know,'' he says with a chuckle. ''My technique is economy of energy and movement. Everything is calculated to save energy. Use only what you need.'' His other secret weapon is hours of solitary practice. ''When you have done five or six hours, you go to bed. You are finished for the day.''
As well as a performer, Garcia-Fons is a prolific composer. He has written work for seven soloists from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as well as film music for Germany's Kurt Weill Fest. He has also been commissioned by Ballet du Grand Theatre de Limoges to write music for the premiere of Carmen this year.
These days, Garcia-Fons enjoys the increasing popularity of the instrument worldwide. At the International Society of Bassists convention in the US he meets people from all over the world.
He says the mass production in Asia has made the double bass more accessible. But parents of budding double bass players be warned: you are still going to need a LandCruiser and a strong pair of biceps to transport it. Garcia-Fons laughs. ''It is still easier than in my day. It is getting easier all the time.''"