by Ben Kettlewell
Mark Deutsch is the inventor of the Bazantar, a hybrid of a sitar and a double bass comprised of a five-string Grunert acoustic bass, modified with the addition of four drone strings. These four drone strings pass just above an extension of the original bridge, where 29 sympathetic strings have been added, which are located in a separate box beneath the fingerboard, passing over a bridge of their own. At present, he uses the modal tuning D-A-D-A-D for the five bass strings. As one might imagine, the instrument is capable of producing a tonal range of immense proportion; the result of it's ergonomic design and it's hybrid blend of classical Western and Eastern musical structures. A virtual self-contained orchestra, the bazantar resonates with the power and intensity of a Buddhist choir. The incredibly resonant timbres of the Bazantar, whether bowed or plucked in the lower octave or soaring across the fingerboard three octaves higher, produce an amazing variety of tonal colors. To a great extent, this is created by the ringing of the sympathetic strings, but also the modal tuning of the bass. The overall design of the instrument, which Mark describes as "energy-conserving and tension-minimizing", is perhaps another factor in the end result.
The concept behind Mark's instrument design is reminiscent of another instrument, the Mohan Vinå, designed and built by master Indian musician V. M. Bhatt ( "Meeting by the River" with Ry Cooder, Water Lily Acoustics). The Mohan Vinå, is in essence, a hybrid of a 30's arch-top jazz guitar and a sitar. It looks like a standard guitar with five drone strings, three melody strings, and fifteen resonating strings. The tuning pegs for the drone and melody strings are located in the usual place on the head stock of the guitar. The sympathetic strings, like those on the Bazantar are located on extensions on each side of the neck with tuning pegs. Mark's instrument is much more sensitive at picking up the resonance from the sympathetic strings.
Mark doesn't play in a standard tempered tuning, but draws his
sound from over sixty-six other harmonically resonant divisions of
the octave. These are artfully transcribed in the accompanying
booklet to his critically acclaimed album, 'Fool'. Below is a diagram
of Mark's composer notes, designed to help guide the listener in
understanding the musical structure of 'Fool'. A three page fold-out
graphic display representing the piece, Illustrates the evolution of
"a being that is wise enough to be a fool - a fool for something, be
it art, music, science, or love."
Drawing from a background in classical training as a bass player, with a great deal of experience in working with orchestral ensembles, global folk traditions, jazz ensembles, and numerous solo sitar performances, Deutsch brings the diverse elements of these musical personalities together to achieve his unique musical vision.
Mark began playing professionally at the early age of twelve. During his career, he has delved into many genres and instruments while studying with an eclectic range of instructors. Among them, are Henry Loew, principal bassist for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. The album "Fool" is dedicated to the memory of Henry Loew (1922-1996). Mr. Loew served as principal bassist for the St. Louis Symphony from 1949 up till 1992. Other teachers have included Ustad Imrat Khan, the renowned North Indian classical sitarist, Titos Sompa, a Congolese percussionist, and last but not least; Rufus Reid and Mark Johnson, two world-class jazz bassists.
Deutsch is continuing to explore new performance techniques made possible by the Bazantar's unique construction. His melding of non-linear mathematical principles and multicultural musical influences is deeply embedded in both his composition and playing technique. His innovations, in the stringed instrument realm, are light years ahead of his contemporaries. He breaks down all barriers, defying musical categorization, creating a unique new irresistible musical voice.
"Fool" is a composition for solo performance on sitar and bazantar, consisting of a prelude, five movements and a postlude. Mark confidently combines traditional structures of Western classical music with the contemplative precision, melodic mantras and tonal characteristics of Indian traditional music, and the vibrant openness of jazz improvisation. Like the late bass virtuoso, Jaco Pastorious, Mark Deutsch is a bassist who can carry not only the rhythm, but the harmony and melody as well, in Mark's case, extremely well. Although Mark's album "Fool" is linear in its narrative musical dialogue as demonstrated in the chart above. The thematic structure of "Fool" is a tonal metaphor that ripples outward from its core, swirling like a Sufi dancer.
Lacta Alea Est, the petite opening composition, is a tone poem, relentless in it's resolve and faithful its intent. The title refers to Julius Caesar's famous quote; "The die is cast". Mark utilizes ancient ethnic percussion, Tibetan balls and Chinese balls to punctuate the mood of the piece. Orchid's Womb, the second piece, is performed on solo sitar, which further expands on the mood created by opening composition, Iacta Alea Est. Mark creates a sense of tonal stories translated through the music. It's this form of storytelling that gives life to Orchid's Womb, as well as it's correlative composition, Chrysanthemums and Orchids, and to the album as a cohesive whole. The Painted Bird continues the journey from the worldly to the intimate inner realm as it colors both emotional and musical tones with cutting-edge approaches &endash; visceral as well as cerebral. This piece is a wonderful introduction to the Bazantar, with the rich harmonic foundation of the double bass and the captivating resonance of the sympathetic strings. Meaning "the work of one's life", Avodah demonstrates the insight and concentration of Mark's arrangements and the visionary diversity of his compositions. Persival, the desperate seeker in European mythology, is a sitar performance that creates a classic pantomime of the questing hero in its timbral journey, a dualistic portrayal, creating a paradox in the form of a smoothly metered raga that brings Persival's adventure to a dramatic conclusion. Kundalini Rising is an extremely delicate piece, created with sublime sensitivity, technical assurance and a broad palette of textures. Even the most casual listener will be captivated by the ebullience of Mark's playing, mesmerizing timbres which dissolve and slip effortlessly into the psyche. The apex of the album is the bazantar composition, The Sword Of Damocles. Damocles was a courtier in ancient Syracuse. According to legend, he was seated at a banquet beneath a sword suspended by a single hair. The sword of Damocles, therefore, has come to represent any imminent disaster. The final song on the album, Lunatic Fringe, brings the musical cycle full circle with a similar sense of pathos to Lacta Alea Est, the opening piece. It resonates like a Tibetan chant, a singular, reverberant timbre from a chime calls out, a pattern of the eternal cycle of life, yin and yang. In his musical interpretation, Mark's strong lyrical approach presents a smooth melodic foray of quiet passion and longing. His playing is wrenchingly emotional and evocative, conveying pathos, fervor, and undying conviction.
In conclusion, Mark Deutsch has produced an album which is a totally involving experience. It is an expression of the depth and beauty of life, where each track has a sense of dignity, and tenderness that is genuinely touching. An album to listen to with your ears connected to your heart.
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