Darkness and Scattered Light   CB0067

The music

Three High Places (for solo double bass) (2007)

   1.  Above Sunset Pass 

   2.  The Wind at Maclaren Summit 

   3.  Looking Toward Hope

Darkness and Scattered Light (for five double basses) (2023)

Three Nocturnes (for solo double bass) (2022)

   1.  Moonrise

   2.  Night Wind

   3.   Moonset


Adams writes about the music:

Three High Places contains no normal stopped tones (created by pressing a string against the fingerboard of the instrument). Instead, all the sounds are natural harmonics or open strings. So, the musician’s fingers never touch the fingerboard. If I could’ve found a way to make this music without touching the instrument at all, I would have. Originally composed for solo violin, the piece is also frequently performed by violists and cellists. But Robert Black is the first to play it on double bass, which requires retuning the strings of Simone, his beloved instrument, to perfect fifths (C/G/D/A).

“My electronic sound environments The Place Where You Go to Listen and The Wind Garden sound the rhythms of day and night across the seasons in, respectively, Fairbanks, Alaska, and La Jolla, California. The voices of daylight are grounded in the “major-sounding” intervals of the harmonic series, while those of night derive from the “minor-sounding” intervals of the subharmonic series. Written for five double basses (on this recording all parts are played by Robert Black), Darkness and Scattered Light traces long melodic lines across harmonic arcs from midnight to noon and back to midnight, on the winter solstice in an imaginary place.

“Commissioned by the Moab Music Festival, Three Nocturnes is dedicated to my longtime friend Robert Black, who gave the premier performance outdoors, amid red rock canyons. The dark twin of Three High Places, it is scored only for double bass, in the standard tuning of perfect fourths (E/A/D/G). While Three High Places is composed entirely on the harmonic series, Three Nocturnes is grounded entirely in the subharmonic series.””

The composer

John Luther Adams, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in music (2014) and a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (2015), and a 2022 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, was for many years based in Alaska, where his work derived much of its unique character from the landscape and weather of the Great North. About a half-dozen years ago, he moved from Alaska, living in various desert and mountain areas in South and Central America—places that also inspired and found expression in his music. He currently resides in rural New Mexico.

Described by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century,” Adams composes for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic media and has worked with many prominent performers and venues, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the International Contemporary Ensemble, eighth blackbird, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, the California E.A.R. Unit, Bang on a Can, Percussion Group Cincinnati, Other Minds, the Sundance Institute, Almeida Opera, SFJazz, and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic.

Adams has written three books, including Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020) and Winter Music: Composing the North (Wesleyan University Press). He has received numerous awards and grants, including the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness. His music has been released by a number of record labels, including Cold Blue, which has nine CDs devoted to his work, including Houses of the Wind (CB0063), Arctic Dreams (CB0060), Lines Made by Walking (CB0058), Everything That Rises (CB0051), The Wind in High Places (CB0041), The Light that Fills the World (CB0010), Red Arc/Blue Veil (CB0026), the place we began (CB0032), and Four Thousand Holes (CB0035), as well as two of his shorter works on the anthologies Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox (CB0009) and Cold Blue Two (CB0036). 

“His music becomes more than a metaphor for natural forces: it is an elemental experience in its own right.”—Tom Service, The Guardian

“His music has repeatedly conjured up visions of limitless expanse.”—The Wire

“Adams’ manner is that of Thoreau—to be in a place, incorporate it into his memory and values, and recreate that through music. . . . Adams is changed by nature and his music is a catalogue of the places that changed him. . . . Adams [is] an important and necessary musician for our time.”—New York Classical Review

“The music of John Luther Adams is simply beautiful. It . . . sounds like it has nothing to accomplish. It simply exists, hanging in mid-air, waiting to be listened to.”—AllMusic Guide

“Out of many eligible composers of his generation, John Luther Adams is the greatest proponent of the American experimental tradition, a lineage that includes Ives, Cowell, Varèse, Partch, Nancarrow, Cage and Tenney.”—Sequenza 21

“[T]he sense of space is an Adams thumbprint—as is the spiritual aura that comes as a consequence.”—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

“It is impressive to imagine anyone actually following such conceptual virtuosity . . . creating the seamless, seemingly organic layers of sound Adams lays out over his structurally precise and infinitely flexible power grids.”—Gramophone

The performer

Robert Black (1956–2023) toured the world, creating music for the double bass and collaborating with adventurous composers, musicians, dancers, actors, and other artists. He was a founding member of the acclaimed Bang on a Can All-Stars, and his recent collaborations had been with Philip Glass, John Luther Adams, Eve Beglarian, Joan Tower, Phil Niblock, and others. His final concert, before his death from cancer, was in April 2023 (Darkness and Scattered Light was recorded in March 2023), when he played in a Philadelphia performance of Eve Beglarian’s A Murmur in the Trees, a piece for 24 basses. Black taught at the Hartt School for 29 years, and for the past half-dozen years his Robert Black Foundation has been supporting many and varied contemporary music activities. His previous solo albums have been released by the Cantaloupe, Orange Mountain, Mode, and New World labels.

“Spectacular bassist Robert Black pairs up with John Luther Adams, one of the most important composers of our time. Black’s visionary commissioning and his realization of and advocacy for the music of our time is unmatched.”—Julia Wolfe

 “I very much appreciate Robert Black for his amazing double bass technique and his real sensitivity and musicianship. I like him a lot, there are only a few such musicians.”—Iannis Xenakis

“Black uncovers unexplored virtuosity on the double bass  and performs . . . with eloquence.”—Bass World: The Journal of the International Society of Bassists

“[Black] is an acclaimed practitioner of the double bass . . . one of the growing number of virtuosic double bassists who is passionate about expanding the repertoire and the public profile of the great, but underrated instrument.” —Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara News-Press 

“Robert Black’s . . .  playing is rhythmically incisive, energetic, clean, and powerful.”—Bass World: The Journal of the International Society of Bassists

“Robert Black, a virtuoso bassist who collaborated with prominent composers, including Philip Glass and John Cage. . . . As a soloist and a chamber musician, Mr. Black championed contemporary music and commissioned work from dozens of composers.”—The New York Times


“Among the many strong releases arriving this week, nothing compares with Darkness and Scattered Light in terms of sheer unadulterated beauty. The album, the latest in a series of discs from composer John Luther Adams on the Cold Blue label, is devoted to compositions for double bass: two unaccompanied solo pieces, and one quintet, all played by longtime close collaborator Robert Black.

“These patient reveries and airy dances, suffused with luminescence and shadow, could only have been created by Adams. The music is ethereal and visceral at once, and Black is responsive to every challenge and nuance.

“What results is sublime: a tribute to the composer’s sustained vision, and a resonant, reverent homage to Black, a pillar of the new-music community, who we lost in June.” —Steve Smith, Night After Night

“John Luther Adams’s composition Darkness and Scattered Light mines the depths of five double basses, all played on this recording by Robert Black. Through its somber brilliance, this piece shows the expansive vision that informs Adams’s music extending, like William Blake’s world perceived in a grain of sand, into the minutiae of intonation and intervallic relationships. This impressive release additionally features Three High Places and Three Nocturnes, each scored for solo bass. Evocative projections, intense in their moment to moment focus, these too are compositions in which Adams encompasses both broad scope and closely articulated detail. Robert Black is a palpable presence here. The sad fact that he died in June [2023] imparts emotional resonance of a different order.” — Julian Cowley, The Wire

“The music of John Luther Adams inspires a certain devotion from a core group of collaborators—whether JACK Quartet, percussionist Doug Perkins, or conductor Ludvic Morlot—and this astonishing new collection revels in his connection with double bassist Robert Black, the long-time member of Bang on a Can All-Stars, who died from colon cancer several months after finishing this album. His playing reveals the extraordinary possibilities of his instrument, deftly translating the composer’s sonic evocations of nature with stunning precision and sensitivity. The album opens with the 2007 piece Three High Places, a tender three-movement work originally written for violin, but tackled by a variety of string players over the years. The piece eschews any stopped tones—where the instrumentalist presses a string against the fretboard—in favor of harmonics and open strings, but its mournful melodies and ghostly overtones, which occasionally defy logic in the elucidation of self-contained counterpoint, lacks nothing. The title piece is the newest work here, and it features Black playing five overdubbed lines conveying both haunting darkness and shimmering brightness, as long slow-moving arcs of sound coalesce and separate over 16 luxurious minutes, evoking the shift in natural light between noon and midnight in an imaginary location conjured by the composer. The album concludes with a kind of low-end rejoinder to the opening piece: Three Nocturnes is rooted entirely in the subharmonic series, and it is dedicated to Black—a fitting, moving epitaph.” —Peter Margasak, Best Contemporary Classical on Bandcamp

“I have been reviewing the work of John Luther Adams for almost two decades now, and he remains in my view one of the most important American composers—indeed, one of international significance. He is that rare creator who successfully embodies a visionary aesthetic without falling into grandiosity. I think a big part of this comes from his always listening very closely to nature, and all aspects of whatever environment he has chosen to be in. He is moving into the most ‘mature’ portion of his career (and may he have many more years ahead!).

“The Cold Blue release consists of works entirely for solo and multiple contrabassist. It takes on a particularly poignant quality, in that the soloist Robert Black (who plays all five parts in the quintet) passed away earlier this year, far too young and full of almost limitless potential for future creative projects. This disc is now sadly one of his final memorials.

Three High Places (2007) is a reworking of an earlier piece for solo violin, though you could never tell from how idiomatic it sounds on Black’s bass. It explores the possibilities of a string instrument whose only resources are open strings and natural harmonics. Even with those dramatic restrictions, its three movements have very distinct characters. The first is an essay in extremes of overlapping, highs and lows; the second, a fluttery evocation of a windy landscape, with arpeggiating bariolage; and the third closest to song. (The 2022 Three Nocturnes returns to this template, in terms of form and character differentiation between movements, but the final one, “Moonset,” has a haunting recurrent gesture of a high descending fourth in harmonics, rather like a single birdcall piercing the silence.)

Darkness and Scattered Light (2023) is the quintet, and a remarkable soundscape. Even though the register is of course predominantly low, the texture varies, and it is never suffocating. Just the opposite—there’s a lot of air between the notes. And Adams’s trademark technique—a constant exploration and rethinking of the overtone series—results in harmonies that are always surprising. Frankly, in places there were emergent combinations I felt I’ve never heard before—which is saying something, considering how much I have heard!

“Cold Blue’s rendering of the depth, power, and scope of Black’s instrument is exemplary. . . . Five stars: Visionary works at the height of ambition and technique by one of our most important composers” —Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“Here is another expertly programmed John Luther Adams disc from Cold Blue, with performances to match. Two sets of miniatures flank the mammoth titular piece, Darkness and Scattered Light, all performed by departed bassist extraordinaire Robert Black. Indeed, the Three Nocturnes were commissioned by him, and they represent the culmination of a program whose overall formal plan is enhanced and subverted by the music of shifting densities and intersecting pitch planes typifying the composer’s structures.

“The disc is a semi-palindromic voyage through the felicities of register communing with itself, morphing deliciously between moments while maintaining that static interior we’ve come to expect. The second of the Three High Places, originally composed for violin, is almost a representation of the whole disc in microcosm as its nearly silent earthy opening takes wing, rippling and swirling windily through flawlessly executed high registers, ultimately to subside, enfolding itself into the deeper tones spawning it. Conversely, the last of the nocturnes inhabits a low place, with tentative tendrils of easy obfuscation reaching for heights only glimpsed. What is most astonishing is how those cavernous rumbles, emerging as if from Earth’s central heating through layers of stone and water, finally burst forth as the luminous essences they are, drawn from some unimaginably deep fundamental. It could be that the closest this set of pieces comes to expressing that Ur-tone is the lengthy titular piece, written for five double basses with all parts played by Black. It never rumbles, but simply sighs into existence as its parabolic shape is adorned with the exquisite harmonies of history and eternity in dialogue. At times like a Renaissance motet in quasi-transcription and at others wide open in quartal ascent, even with traces of blues scale buried deep beneath the molten surface and despite the occasional harmonic clash, the beginning and ending tone is never out of earshot. Octaves, fourths, fifths, and thirds sinew in and out of focus, inhabiting, in slow dance, the emotive spaces in which memory and attainment prove as transient as pitch and pulse, with equally falsified boundaries.

“No further testament to Black’s performative genius is needed than this. That unity of pitch—not really a unity at all but a series of deeply connected diversities—can be heard in every note he plays. Tone, timbre, and intent fuse so completely as to disappear in his effortless handling of an often unwieldy instrument. He is the perfect performer of music scaling heights and depths commensurate with those he cultivated in his unique kind of virtuosity. Making sport of all technical obstacles, he transcends, each tone a world and each piece a universe in miniature, unifying the opposites in the album’s title, but there’s so much more! Such is the richness captured in every sound by an excellent recording of a superb performance that time ceases to matter; all those opposites converge and vanish. Five stars: The double bass as orchestra.” —Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine

“Adams’s . . . new release, comprised of music composed between 2002 and 2023, reminds me why I was attracted to Adams’s music in the first place, more than 20 years ago. In fact, the most recent piece, Darkness and Scattered Light, is the most striking of the three because of its single-minded, uncompromising adherence to a musical idea carried out as far and as long as reason will take it. Darkness and Scattered Light takes five double basses on a 24-hour journey, from midnight to midnight, on the winter solstice “in an imaginary place.” At the outset, the music draws a deep breath and holds it for 16 minutes and 32 seconds, without fatigue and without relaxing the impressionistic grandeur of the music’s lengthy rise and fall. Even at its darkest, it shimmers.

“The other two works, as their name implies, are trilogies comprised of contrasting sections that each are four to five minutes long. Given the compressed time frame, Adams gives listeners less space to lose themselves in a softly roiling sonic landscape, so Adams compensates by giving listeners melodic cells to hang their hats on. “Above Sunset Pass,” the first part of Three High Places (2007), even suggests the tintinnabuli style of Arvo Pärt, as does to a lesser degree the third part, titled “Looking Toward Hope.” All of the notes in Three High Places are produced without pressing any of the strings against the fingerboard. In other words, only open strings or natural harmonics are used. Originally composed for violin, Three High Places here is performed on a double bass whose strings have been tuned to intervals of a fifth. Playing this music on a double bass instead of a violin naturally darkens it, but the music is not sepulchral, and the lower notes, which are almost tangible, seem to resonate with our body’s core.

“The Three Nocturnes (2022) were written for and dedicated to double bassist Black. Here, the instrument is conventionally tuned. Adams writes, ‘While Three High Places is composed entirely on the harmonic series, Three Nocturnes is grounded entirely on the subharmonic series.’ Elsewhere, the composer described the intervals of the harmonic series as ‘major-sounding’ and those of the subharmonic series as ‘minor-sounding,’ which may or may not facilitate your ability to get under the skin of these works.

“Double bassist Robert Black died of cancer last June at the age of 67. He was a faithful advocate for new classical music, and his passing creates a painful void for both composers and adventurous listeners. Four stars: These three works for double bass remind us that light penetrates even the darkest caves.” —Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare magazine

“It’s heartening to see this latest release by John Luther Adams appearing, as so many have before, on Jim Fox’s Cold Blue. The long-standing association between the two has been to their mutual benefit. The West coast label supported Adams long before he received the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for Become Ocean and a Grammy a year later for the recording of it issued on Cantaloupe; his ongoing relationship with Cold Blue subsequent to that recognition continues to broaden awareness of the label. It’s one of those special cases where the aesthetic sensibility of artist and imprint seamlessly align, each less fixated on issues of commerce and more the integrity of the musical project. It’s possible to imagine Adams’ music appearing on, say, Deutsche Grammophon, yet the fit would seem odd. Testifying further to their connection, Cold Blue’s understated visual presentation seems a perfect match for the composer’s material.

“Yet while Darkness and Scattered Light is inarguably an Adams release, it’s as much Robert Black’s, not only because the double bassist is the sole performer but because the release serves as an epitaph of sorts, Black having passed away in June 2023 from colon cancer only three months after recording the material. That an entire album exclusively devoted to performances by this extraordinary musician and educator—two for solo double bass and the third for five— would appear soon after his passing is wonderful, if also bittersweet. The one-time Bang on a Can All-Star was, of course, a virtuoso on the double bass, yet one comes away from the recording more cognizant of the eloquence and humility with which he communicates through the instrument. As David Lang accurately notes, Black’s presentation of Adams’ pieces is “pure and plainspoken,” as well as honest and honorable.

“Dedicated to his Alaskan neighbour Gordon Wright (the composer now lives in New Mexico), Three High Places (2007) is quintessential Adams. With all of the sounds generated by natural harmonics or open strings, the music is as natural as it could be. The work was originally composed for solo violin, which meant Black had to retune his strings to perfect fifths (C/G/D/A) to perform it. Needless to say, the material in no way suffers from the translation, with the opening “Above Sunset Pass” drawing the listener in with its stillness and serene aura. As the simple bowed patterns emerge, they manifest a timeless folk quality that suggests this meditative music could have been written yesterday or a century ago. “The Wind at Maclaren Summit” unspools at a comparatively faster tempo, its cycling patterns and insistent bowing giving the material an hypnotic character. Inhabiting the instrument’s lower register, the groaning strokes of “Looking Toward Hope” make it as captivating as the other parts.

“Pushing past sixteen minutes and scored for five double basses is the release’s 2023 title work. Patiently unfolding, Darkness and Scattered Light assembles long bowed lines into a gradually swelling and heaving web of counterpoint. Slow-motion undulations suggestive of a ship’s rocking on the water deepen the music’s trance-inducing effect. Black apparently gave the premiere performance of the album-closing Three Nocturnes (2022) outdoors amid red rock canyons. Written for double bass, the piece is in the standard tuning of perfect fourths (E/A/D/G). Something of a darker twin to Three High PlacesThree Nocturnes follows the crepuscular evocation “Moonrise” with the more animated flurries of “Night Wind” and the somber tone painting “Moonset.” Alex Ross’s contention that Adams is “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century” is supported by this new release, in addition to those that came before. It also honors Black in fitting and touching manner and reminds us of the superb musical talent we’ve lost.”—Ron Schepper, Textura

Darkness and Scattered Light . . . contains three pieces that capture the impressive grandeur of nature from the unconventional perspective of the double bass. Darkness and Scattered Light is extraordinary music, masterfully performed by the late Robert Black, a long-time collaborator of the composer. John Luther Adams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer whose work has long embraced the natural world and chronicled its unsettled relationship to humanity. . . . Darkness and Scattered Light artfully extends the environmental dialog that is the signature theme of composer John Luther Adams while at the same time establishing a lasting testament to the expressive virtuosity of bassist Robert Black.” —Paul Muller, Sequenza21  

Darkness and Scattered Light consists of three compositions, all of which were recorded by the late Robert Black, who was one of the founding members of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The first and last of the selections, Three High Places and Three Nocturnes, were composed for solo bass. Between them is the performance of Darkness and Scattered Light, scored for five double basses with all parts played by Black. Completed earlier this year, this was the most recent work on the album.

“The nocturnes set was composed during the previous year on a commission by the Moab Music Festival. Three High Places, on the other hand, is much earlier, having been completed in 2007. It was originally composed for solo violin and has also been performed by violists and cellists. Adams composed this work to avoid any stopped tones (those that result from pressing a string against the fingerboard). As a result, all of the sonorities are the result of either open strings or by touching the string to evoke the pitch of a natural upper harmonic.

“While the strings of violins, violas, and cellos are all tuned in fifths, the strings of the bass are tuned in fourths. Thus, the upper harmonics afforded by the tuning of bass differ from those of the other instruments in the string family. The only way in which Black could provide Adams with the ‘correct’ sonorities would be to retune his instrument in such a way that the pitches of the four open strings are an octave lower than those on the cello. Many readers probably know by now that I am a devout acolyte in the temple of natural harmonics, so it did not take much for me to find myself hooked on the sonorities of Black’s retuned instrument. Nocturnes was later composed to deal with the alternative intervals of natural harmonics arising from a set of strings tuned in fourths, meaning that only the bass can play that score.

Darkness and Scattered Light, on the other hand, is based on both the “natural” harmonic series, consisting of rising intervals, and the ‘subharmonic’ series of descending intervals. One might say that the latter is a product of mathematics, while the former is one of physics. However, because the subharmonic series is not natural, the intervals and progressions that emerge are more challenging for the attentive listener to ‘parse.’

“In other words the attentive listener needs to approach the landscape of intervals in Darkness and Scatter Light in a way that differs from listening to the High Places and Nocturnes suites. Readers may recall that this is not the first time that I have suggested that one has to invest a generous amount of time in adjusting mind to Adams’ artifacts. Personally, I just go on listening, allowing the interplay between acoustic phenomena and mental perception to run its proper course!” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio

“Renowned award-winning American composer John Luther Adams’ album Darkness and Scattered Light is an unusual one, consisting of three major works for double bass. Two scored for solo double bass and one for bass quintet, each attractive piece is a substantial contribution to the bass repertoire.

“Superbly performed by the late bassist Robert Black (1956–2023) these virtuoso works call not only on the majesty of the lowest of the string section. but also on its ability in the right hand to evoke near-orchestral multi-part textures—as in the serene solo Three High Places (2007). Fascinatingly, all the sounds in this work consist of bowed natural harmonics or open strings, the musician’s fingers never touching the fingerboard.

Darkness and Scattered Light (2023), Adams’ 16’32” single-movement score for five double basses (all played by Black), wades deeply into orchestral textures, employing both the harmonic and subharmonic over­tone series. Marked by merging long tones transfigured onto a tonally ambiguous harmonic terrain, Adams’ aesthetically sophisticated, historically informed work is masterful.

“The other solo is Three Nocturnes (2022), evoking the dark side of the harmonic series and of nature herself. Dedicated to Black, he gave the premiere outdoors, amid red rock canyons.Composer Michael Gordon wrote that Black “has single-handedly reinvented the technique and repertoire of the double bass. bringing it bursting into the 21st century.” Black’s no-nonsense, committed, masterful playing of Adams’ music is his beautiful, lasting legacy.” —TheWholeNote

“Over fifty years of serious listening I keep finding more composers to check out, some known and many pretty obscure. Somewhere near the top of my list of favorite composers is John Luther Adams. I’ve been following Mr. Adams since I discovered his music in the 1990s. I own around two dozen of his discs and often listen to each one more than once, since I know the more I listen, the more I understand what he is doing. . . . What makes Mr. Adams stand out is that each piece evokes a different vibe or space or scene.

“I received a copy of Mr. Adams’ new disc, Darkness and Scattered Light, a couple of months ago and decided to wait to listen to it when I could give it my full attention. I’m glad I did. This disc consists of two pieces for solo contrabass and a third piece for five (overdubbed) contrabasses. The contrabass is played by Robert Black, who you should know from his many years with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Sadly Mr. Black passed away in June of this year (2023). Three High Places was composed in 2007, and all of the sounds are created by natural harmonics or open strings (without pushing the strings onto the fingerboard). The music drifts along, made of long sustained tones. The music seems to breathe and even has an inner pulse, which throbs quietly underneath. Since the notes are not plucked, they resonate like a chorus of voices, giving off a sort of religious or spiritual vibe. In the second section, the music radiates an organic sense of warmth, similar to the way the sun warms up a room through the window. It is the larger-than-life sound of Black’s acoustic bass which gives this piece a most riveting sound. The title track, Darkness and Scattered Light, is for five contrabasses. This piece “traces long melodic lines across harmonic arcs from midnight to noon and back to midnight,” states Mr. Adams. This piece also seems to breathe, slowly moving in wave after wave. Each wave is a drone-note which is being carefully stretched and evokes several fleeting spirits or ghost-like beings. The last piece is called Three Nocturnes, and it is grounded on the subharmonic series. Its premiere performance was done outdoors amid the red rock canyons. The way that Robert Black bows the strings here, [gives] it a solemn, shimmering sound. . . .

“John Luther Adams has a way of giving his pieces an organic presence as if we are listening to a spirit/ force being created in front of us. Today (11/9/23) it feels like spring outside, although we’ve had some cold fall days in recent weeks. The sunlight is coming through my kitchen window and warming me up. This music fits the peaceful vibe which is being created as I/we listen.” —Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter          


“Perhaps it’s a sign of the times but fresh from reviewing an album of the music of Žibuoklė Martinaitytė where, instead of her customary light filled landscapes, the piece recorded plumbed the darkest abyss of the oceans, I now find myself reviewing an album where John Luther Adams explores the sepulchral depths of darkness via the sound of the double bass. As a most passionate environmentalist, I am sure JLA would say that it is most appropriate music for dark times given the summer we have just had. He prefaces his brief notes on the pieces on this album with a quotation from John Haines which reads: ‘to the sun that has set, whose dawn I cannot see…’

“Whilst seldom a difficult listen, John Luther Adams has always been an uncompromising composer whose music has been pared down to bare essentials by his time virtually living off grid in Alaska. It is rather like some kind of natural element such as a rock or tree polished by the action upon it of wind and weather. Oddly, that ascetic sensibility is deeply consoling in such dark music like being guided through forbidding terrain by a wise but gruff old hand. If the state of the environment threatens us now with tribulations to come, JLA is not the kind of man to shy away from looking them straight in the eye.

“Not that the album starts in darkness. Even in its arrangement for double bass, 2007’s High Places shimmers with the light of natural harmonics. As a piece that features only open strings and such harmonics, this arrangement required Black to retune his bass to perfect fifths. Typically of his style, JLA exploits the natural acoustic qualities of the instrument.

“The Three Nocturnes with which the disc concludes form a pair with High Places, the earlier piece concerned with light, the later one darkness. In this case, light becomes associated with the resonances and harmonics of perfect fifths, darkness with the traditional tuning of a double bass in in perfect fourths. A very simple idea but strikingly effective in practice and one that finds echoes with the history of fifths and fourths in the story of western classical music, the former the building blocks of tonality, the latter associated with more troublesome, disturbing qualities.

“The piece Darkness and Scattered Light which gives its name to the whole collection, was written for five double basses with Robert Black overdubbing all the parts himself. It describes a long, slow arc from midnight to midday back to midnight again with night associated with what the composer terms ‘minor sounding intervals’ and day the ‘major sounding’ ones. Its calm rocking rhythms give the work a scale that seems greater and grander than its relatively brief 16 minute duration. It seems more concerned with time as an experience than its measurement by a clock. As with the other works on this disc, its direct and simple confrontation with its subject matter has a similar effect to contemplating the nature it is inspired by.

“Whilst not the obvious place for the novice to start, this is another important and satisfying addition to the JLA discography. Performances and recording show the dedication that his music tends to produce in performers. Those who, like me, rate John Luther Adams as one of the finest composers writing today need not hesitate.” —David McDade, MusicWeb International

“Deep, quiet, ethereal music for double bass by John Luther Adams. This was recorded in March 2023, only a few months before bassist Robert Black died. It is a testament to [Black’s] remarkable skill at coaxing unusual sounds from the instrument. In the beautiful 3 High Places, Black plays 15 minutes of harmonics, most of the time on two strings simultaneously. The mournful Darkness and Scattered Light is for 5 basses (all played by Black). The mysterious Nocturnes ‘is grounded entirely in the subharmonic series’ . . .  The eerie sounds are a good fit for this unusual album.”—American Record Guide

“John Luther Adams’ music is often a seemingly easier listen than a lot of contemporary classical music. Often drone based, it can swirl around and surround you, taking you across and into both physical and mental landscapes. Darkness and Scattered Light is in some ways no different, although it is composed for double bass/basses, and evokes night, eclipses, dawn and sunset; glimmers and absence and the desire for light whilst embracing the dark. It is resonant, earthy, sonorous music, particularly the 16 minute title track for five double basses, which rumbles and groans with seismic activity. It is uplifting, dense, dark music.” —Rupert Loydell, International Times (UK)