Barre Phillips: Aquarian Rain (ECM 1451)

 

Barre Phillips
Aquarian Rain: Music for bass, percussion and tape

Barre Phillips double-bass
Alain Joule percussion
Recorded May 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Constant readers will by now be well aware of my Barre Phillips worship. It seems the man can do no wrong when left to his own devices under the auspices of my favorite label, and Aquarian Rain is no different. As a first, this time around the individual tracks go less by titles than by explanatory cues, for in the first, “Bridging,” we find connections already being made between disparate continents. Its guitar-like exuberance and melodic percussion (courtesy of Alain Joule) skirt arco territories toward stillness. “The Flow” brings about a sense of fluidity through electronic whispers, Joule’s vivid comments accentuating the bass’s inner core and painting its outer skin with observations. Phillips elicits a range of avian effects, from twittering concealed in foliage to lanky elegance of cranes and waterfowl, both hunting and in the rapture of a mating dance. “Ripples Edge” does indeed trace the water’s rim with its opening harmonics and navigates surface tensions like a water skater. Grammatical flair abounds in “Inbetween I and e.” Like a skilled poet who learns the rules only to break them with creative beauty, Phillips seems to mike a degrading clock from the inside. “Ebb” recesses into “Promenade de Memoire,” which like memory is a deeply rooted thrum torn by cries of the present. This intrusion of technology upon the emotional makes a fascinating blend of startling breakers and ponderous undertows. “Eddies,” along with “Early Tide,” puts me in mind of Andy Goldsworthy’s spinning wood in the documentary Working with Time, while “Water Shed” takes shelter from the oncoming storm by ruminating among tackle and life preservers until we get finally to the title track, which empties like a pipe into a pile of panned materials, finding its closure in the chatter of icicles.

Such astounding sound colors are difficult to describe and bear comprehension only through listening. Needless to say, they coalesce into yet another cerebral and perfectly realized episode in the Phillips drama. His is a highly melodic strain of the avant-garde. Not that you’ll be humming these tunes anytime soon, but they’ll certainly hum you.

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