Barre Phillips: Journal Violone II (ECM 1149)

 

Barre Phillips
Journal Violone II

Barre Phillips bass
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizer
Aina Kemanis voice
Recorded June 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Barre Phillips’s music always seems to be more about the obscuring than about what is being obscured. Such a description, I hope, does not merely practice what it preaches, but instead gives insight into his modus operandi. For this suite of six parts, ranging from organic to synthetic and back again, Phillips is joined by frequent collaborator John Surman and vocalist Aina Kemanis. The combination proves to be a formidable one. Phillips brings a delicate intensity to every cell of musical information he divides, especially in the slow buildup of Part III, while Surman threads not a few needles with the bevy of reeds at his disposal. He magnifies our deepest love with an earthy bass clarinet in Part IV. Here, Kemanis’s lilting themes dance with his distanced soprano, painting less jagged lines than she does in Part I. The Brian Eno-esque synths of the latter inject the album with fragrant warmth that Kemanis sustains beautifully with every syllable she sings. Part II harbors the deepest shadows, through which Phillips works his way toward the first lit street he can find. Part V is dedicated to Aquirax Aida, a.k.a. Aida Akira (間章), a music critic and producer deeply committed to free jazz artists like Phillips, leading down a sibilant path toward the final Part VI. This backwater fantasy bounces with the twang of a jaw harp, anchored by Surman’s organic woodwinds and brought home by Kumanis in smooth gradations.

To call any Phillips project “unique” is to commit the commonest of platitudes. His ability to draw a cello’s breath from a bass’s body is nothing short of astonishing. Every inch of his instrument seems to offer up a melody. Were this journal ever to materialize on paper, we would see that it had been written in an erratic but always legible sonic calligraphy.

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