Dave Holland/Barre Phillips: Music From Two Basses (ECM 1011)

Music From Two Basses

Dave Holland double-bass, violoncello
Barre Phillips double-bass
Recorded February 15, 1971 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineers: Kurt Rapp and Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If you know the work of Barre Phillips, Music From Two Basses will be familiar, if not tame, territory. The more recent Dave Holland fan, however, may be in for an intriguing surprise. Through a mounting cluster of clicks, flutters, scrapes, and plucks, two bassists who now seem to inhabit rather different ends of the improvisatory spectrum find common ground here, and the results are extraordinary.

“Improvised Piece I” is dry and cracked around the edges, while “Improvised Piece II” is more like the genesis of a dream. The technique in both is phenomenal, covering a wide range of extended gestures, but always with an emphasis on the miniscule. “Beans” (Phillips) introduces us to the album’s first composed material, and is an exquisite journey laced with drones and bowed harmonics. The heavily applied reverb adds a cool distance. It is a celestial moment in an otherwise terrestrial program, and gone too soon. “Raindrops” (Holland) brings us in the opposite direction, plummeting toward earth in a gentle precipitation. “May Be I Can Sing It For You” (Phillips) is the most straight-laced piece on the album, and therefore the shortest, while the vague “Just A Whisper” (Holland) brings us back into a more delightfully abstract interaction. “Song For Clare,” another Holland piece, closes the set on an affectionate note and leaves us hungry for more.

This is free jazz of the most intimate persuasion. These two bassists may be household names, but here we really get a profound early glimpse into the microcosmic hearts of their instruments. This is an engaging album from start to finish, and one that could easily fail in so many other hands as it skips, sings, and chortles its way through a surprisingly vast program. There are no grand sweeping gestures, no complete sentences, nothing lost or gained. A taxing listen for some, but sure to delight the rest with its whimsical, focused atmospheres.

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