Barre Phillips: Call me when you get there (ECM 1257)

Barre Phillips
Call me when you get there

Barre Phillips solo bass
Recorded February 1983 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

I’ve said it before, but Barre Phillips is one of ECM’s brightest stars, though one would never know it by the solemnity of his genius. Glowing with a pale fire that can be drawn only in cosmic pigments, his sound-world on Call me when you get there throbs as if Michael Galasso and David Darling had fused into a collaborative quasar. The opening “Grants Pass” would seem to have been written in the margins of Steve Reich’s Different Trains, and works its gentle magic under the toenails of our foothold. Played on resonant multi-tracked instruments, this track stands as one of Phillips’s finest. Each shade of harmonic interplay forms a new glyph before our ears and eyes, proving once again just how cavernous the bass really is. This wistful trail leads us to the “Craggy Slope,” an uneven climb into heavily eroded terrain, occasionally punctuated by the fluid twang of the waters that wrought it into existence, and ending surprisingly in an almost baroque denouement. And on that edge we linger, dancing the slow-motion jig of “Amos Crowns Barn” before following the anonymous stirrings beyond “Pittmans Rock.” But when we jump, we land on “Highway 37,” caught in a stampede of tumbleweeds. Here, the bass sounds more like a ball of twine wound around a rubbery core, expanding into some looming paternal guitar, hunchbacked from old age. “Winslow Cavern” bubbles like the molten rock of a volcano before taking shape in the aptly titled “River Bend,” which plucks and scrapes its way through a serpentine journey. And as we take shelter in “The Cavern,” we discover that the only promise of life that awaits us outside its darkness is “Brewstertown 2,” a nightmarish backcountry town with an impending tornado etched into its background.

We can add this album to the modest yet potent shelf of solo bass recordings begun with Dave Holland’s as-yet-unsurpassed Emerald Tears. A masterpiece in the Phillips discography and one well worth the plunge for those who’ve yet to dare.

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