Woodwind Hendrix

Bassoonist Paul Hanson creates new sounds with an old instrument

Bassoonist Paul Hanson and his double-reed woodwind.

Bassoonist Paul Hanson and his double-reed woodwind.

Photo courtesy of Paul Hanson

Chico State New Music Symposium, March 1-2

Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: Student composers, Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall, free

Friday, 7:30 p.m.: Paul Hanson: Bassoon and Electronics, Zing Recital Hall, free

‘Is that an oboe?”

Unless you grew up a band geek, it’s understandable that you might not know a bassoon when you see one. The large woodwind is a curious instrument, more than 4 feet long (double the size of the standard oboe) and folding over on itself at the bottom (the boot) to extend its total sounding length to more than 8 feet.

“It never fails; people ask, ‘What is that instrument?’”

That’s probably not the only question people ask Paul Hanson when he shows up for a performance. The North Bay-based musician takes an already obscure musical instrument, and with the help of an array of electronic effects—delays, distortions, loopers, etc.—creates the very unique sounds of the self-described “improvising bassoonist.”

“Hanson has brought the double-reed instrument into areas where it’s seldom, if ever, gone before, combining a commanding improvisational sensibility with funk, classical and world music influences.” That’s according to DownBeat, the preeminent jazz magazine that would know how rare his niche is.

“I’m not really confused for anyone,” he acknowledged during a recent telephone interview.

Hanson is the visiting musician at this year’s New Music Symposium at Chico State, and will be presenting a solo program titled Bassoon and Electronics, which simply means that he will be performing improvisations using the components of the title. “I’m interested in building things,” he said, explaining that he’ll create layered soundscapes via live looping and delay effects, adding multiple parts to his original compositions.

Typically used in classical orchestra or concert band settings, the bassoon’s natural timbre is warm, with a darker tone than that of, say, a saxophone.

Hanson grew up in Berkeley and was influenced by a wide array of musical styles beyond the jazz and classical disciplines in which his craft is rooted. In fact, he says his approach to the bassoon is similar to that of a guitarist (“I’ve always felt an affinity with [Jimi] Hendrix,” he said), with an appreciation for the “wild, feedback kind of sound” he can get while performing. “It’s an expressive kind of thing,” he said.

Hanson’s musical explorations have taken him all over the world and put him alongside an eclectic roster of collaborators, including Bela Fleck, Wayne Shorter, Medeski Martin & Wood and Bob Weir’s RatDog. In fact, Hanson will arrive in Chico fresh off a series of shows in Italy with renowned fusion drummer Billy Cobham’s Crosswinds Project, and will rejoin the tour as it hits the U.S. this March and April.