Barre Phillips – End to End
(ECM 6725184, also available as LP. CD review by Olie Brice)
In 1968 Barre Phillips recorded the first ever album of solo double bass. Initially intended as source material for composer Max Schubel to manipulate electronically, the results were so musical and beautiful that Schubel persuaded Phillips to release them. Variously entitled Journal Violone, Bass Barre or Unaccompanied Barre on different releases, the recording remains one of the most vital and influential releases of solo improvised music.
Throughout a rich and varied career, always at the cutting edge of improvised music, Barre Phillips has led his own ensembles and collaborated with Archie Shepp, John Surman, Eric Dolphy, Evan Parker, Mal Waldron and Derek Bailey amongst countless others. He has also played a groundbreaking role in pushing the possibilities of multiple double bass improvisation, recording duos with Dave Holland, Peter Kowald, Barry Guy, Yoshizawa Motoharu and Joelle Leandre, and even double bass trios and quartets. Throughout, though, the solo voice has remained a constant, with Journal Violone being followed by Call me when you get there in 1983, Camouflage in 1989 and Journal Violone 9 in 2001. Now, 50 years on from the initial recording, Phillips has released End to End and has announced that it will be his final solo album.
The new album is gorgeous. Beautifully recorded, Phillips’ sense of form, sublime tone and harmonic imagination take us on a gradually unfolding journey. This is mostly freely improvised music – Phillips mentions in the liner notes that he had “five areas of prepared material, five ‘songs’ I wanted to explore” – but tends to a very tonal and compositional approach. The 11 tracks are grouped into 3 sets, entitled Quest, Inner Door and Outer Window and some material re-occurs clearly – part 4 of Quest and part 4 of Inner Door for example are working with the same idea. Most pieces explore one sound area patiently for the duration of the track. The pieces are fairly short for freely improvised music, mostly under 3 minutes with the longest just over 6. The overall impact is a meditative, entrancing experience – a fully mature artistic statement from a musician who has reached the summing up of his solo development. I’m reminded of a chronological retrospective of Joan Miro at the Tate a few years ago – the first room of the exhibition had paintings rammed full of exhilarating detail. By the final room, the paintings were washes of colour with simple lines, yet the same emotional charge and intensity were compressed into these sparse paintings. While I wouldn’t call Phillips a minimalist, there is something here of the same condensed clarity.
Fifty years after inventing the genre, Phillips continues to push the solo double bass into new and beautiful territories. Thank you, Barre, for all the music.