by Struan Douglas
I applied for a teaching post at the Richard-Strauss conservatoire of music in Munich. The audition was very strange. You had to walk in play and teach this student for half an hour in front of a panel. The guy before me was the bass player for Passport – quite a famous band and the guy after me could play ‘Giant Steps’ double speed. Hot, hot guys.
I landed up talking to the student for about half an hour about silence – how to bring your voice out in your sound. I spoke about art and silence. And then I had to play, so I pulled out this emotional ballad, called ‘My friends and I’ – just the simplest piece of music,” tells South African fretless bass player Carlo Mombelli.
No papers and no teaching experience, Carlo got the job, because that is exactly what he is about – a passion to share, to learn and an intensity in discovering that artistic expression that is completely personal.
In the beginnings of his career he practiced so intensely (fourteen hours a day) that his right hand seized up. As a result of the pain and the ensuing operation, he experimented and learnt new means of playing with the left hand using hammer-ons and lift-offs. Bass player Magazine once suggested that he might have been playing backwards. It may be pretty extraordinary playing, but he’s certainly playing forwards.
He learnt classical piano as a child, moved to the bass where he played wild and free jazz with Johnny Fourie in the 80’s. Throttled by the difficulties in South Africa he moved to Germany and experienced a variety of expressions, witnessed a diversity of directions, and played with some great players. From the Brazilian rhythms of Riaz de Pedra and Egberto Gismonti to performances and recordings with Charlie Mariano, Mick Goodrick and Lee Konitz. All these ideas are reflected in his work through the lens of his rare vision, voice and emotion.
In 1993 he was invited to compose and record a piece for the tribute CD “Basstorius” (Hot Wire Records) to the late great bassist Jaco Pastorius. In 1995 Carlo joined the Brazilian band “Raiz De Pedra”, performing at the European festivals as well as touring Brazil. Carlo has performed solo bass concerts (The art of slow motion) and ‘Bats’ – a live recording in Munich – was his fifth.
His music influences have been so many and varied and his passion to share so huge that his return is of great benefit to the local industry, where we the audiences may absorb the huge variety of influences that have shared in the development of his style and his unique voice.
After 11 years of exploring music in Germany, Carlo has returned to his hometown, Johannesburg with his first release in South Africa (fifth in all) – ‘Bats in the Belfry,’ and a local band ‘Prisoners of Strange’, featuring the master of subtlety, Johnny Fourie on guitar and trumpet talent Marcus Wyatt.
The music is about silence, subtlety, understanding – arousing a powerful contrast for the sound to resonate within. The deep and sensual of the jazz, the dark and disjointed of the breathing avant-garde, and the haunting self-analysis of the beautiful passages of minimalism, echoes the intensity, the density and the sparsity of a great artist, Carlo Mombelli.
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