Music By... (Remastered) Barre Phillips
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- 6Double Treble03:02
- 7Elvid Kursong06:47
Info for Music By... (Remastered)
Long before Twitter was a microblogging phenomenon, it was the name of the first cut on this out-of-print gem from Barre Phillips. Thankfully, there is nothing micro about it. Driven by train-like syncopation from drums and bass clarinet, this attention-grabbing burst of virtuosity introduces us to the bubbling acrobatics of daughter Claudia Phillips, a vocalist whose career as chanteuse found a niche in France in the 80s. Her sometimes-manic instincts are swept down the stream of Aina Kemanis, the voice of Journal Violone II. Together they form a magic triangle with John Surman’s own sinewy lines. With such exuberance and glottal depth as Claudia displays here, one can hardly keep one’s ears focused on anything but her brilliance. Her siren-like spindles prove to be a guiding force in the more freely improvised “Angleswaite” and, with Kemanis, trace fluid arcs in “Elvid Kursong” and drop like spores in “Pirthrite.” The latter is a bizarrely martial excursion that is at once march and requiem, made all the more so through the liquid alto of Herve Bourde. These facets contract into a single plane in “Longview.” Here, Claudia comes to life in a bubbling stutter, soon overtaken by Bourde’s tenor, left of center. “Entai” and “Double Treble” sound like an ice-skating bass and clarinet struggling for balance over a warping record, compressing the album into more rudimentary ciphers.
This is yet another fascinating cell in the stained glass window that is Barre Phillips, capturing both the thrill and pain of modernism and those quiet moments, few and far between, where the soul kisses the brow of alienation. The content is brought to fervent life by an impassioned participation that frolics at the intersection of speech and song. As a longtime fan of the Cocteau Twins and Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that drives it, I have sometimes wondered what she might have sounded like had she made an ECM album. With Music By… we begin to approach one possible answer.
Barre Phillips, bass
Hervé Bourde, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute
John Surman, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Pierre Favre, drums, percussion
Aina Kemanis, vocals
Claudia Phillips, vocals
Recorded May 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg, Germany
Engineered by Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
who was born in 1934 in California but has lived in the south of France since the early 1970s, has been at the forefront of successive revolutions in improvised music. He initially followed an academic career to the age of 25, until one day, as he puts it, he “just flipped” and decided that he would pursue his passion for music “come hell or high water”.
Ornette Coleman set him on his jazz path around 1960 and he was soon working the extremes of the “New Thing”, playing improvised chamber music with Jimmy Guiffre and freely expressive “fire music” with Archie Shepp. In London in the late 1960s he played with John Stevens’ history-making Spontaneous Music Ensemble and with the South African musicians around Chris McGregor. He then co-founded the powerhouse group The Trio with John Surman and Stu Martin, which appeared on Mountainscapes. Phillips’ first recording for ECM, however, was the 1971 duo album Music for Two Basses with Dave Holland, the first duo for basses issued on any label (“a fine record by two masters of the instrument”, BBC).
After further recordings for the label with Surman, and with Terje Rypdal, and the solo bass album, Call Me When You Get There, Phillips experimented with music for bass, percussion and tape on Aquarium Rain and mediated between Evan Parker and Paul Bley on Time Will Tell and Sankt Gerold, the latter a live album, taped at the Austrian mountain monastery. John Fordham, writing about this album in the Guardian, praised Phillips for “on the one hand swirling, smoky bowed textures and on the other great tension between his precision of pitch and buzzing-bee abstractions”. The bassist also collaborated with Joe and Mat Maneri on two ECM discs, Tales of Rohnlief and Angles of Repose, the second of which was recorded at the ancient chapel of Sainte Philomène, which adjoins Phillips’s home in Puget-Ville.
“I play everything based on what my ear suggests I play, with no objective editing. And my ear is fed by a pool of accumulated musical experiences stored in my memory, mental memory and muscle memory. My active role is to do the best I can to play on my instrument what my ear is suggesting.”
This album contains no booklet.