Till Fellner: In Concert – Beethoven/Liszt (ECM New Series 2511)

2511 X

Till Fellner
In Concert: Beethoven/Liszt

Till Fellner piano
Années de pèlerinage
Concert recording, June 2002
Wien, Musikverein, Großer Saal
Tonmeister: Gottfried Zawichowski
Engineer: Andreas Karlberger
An ORF Recording (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Österreich 1)
Sonata No. 32
Concert recording, October 2010
Middlebury College Performing Arts Series
Mahaney Center for the Arts, Robison Hall
Tonmeister: Mark Christensen
Mastering: Markus Heiland
An ECM Production
Release date: November 2, 2018

But where of ye, O tempests! is the goal?
Are ye like those within the human breast?
Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?
–Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

After a mosaic of recordings spanning the gamut from J. S. Bach to Thomas Larcher, Till Fellner returns to ECM with a pastiche of live recordings from 2002 and 2010. The first presents the Austrian pianist in his home capital for year one of Franz Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. Inspired by the composer’s trip to Switzerland from 1835 to 1836 but unpublished until 1855, this aural scrapbook is alive with alpine imagery and motifs, encompassing firsthand memories, friendships, and even political views. It’s on the latter note that the collection begins with La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell. This stately introduction to an otherwise flowing work sets a precedent of architectural soundness that infuses all to follow. Contrast this with the watery beauties of Au lac de Wallenstadt and Au bord d’une source, and you already have a sense of the variety to which Liszt had eloquent access, rendered by Fellner with dynamic temperament.

While many sections, such as the sunlit Pastorale and Eglogue (the latter riffing on a shepherd’s song), are built around fleeting impressions, each nevertheless feels complete. This may be due to the fact nearly all of the music is revised from earlier material, an exception being the tempestuous Orage. No matter the duration, emotional integrity is the primary ingredient, so that the descriptions of Vallée d’Obermann’s thirteen precious minutes feel just as thick as Le mal du pays. Both seem to find the composer yearning for home when away from it, if not also for distant travels when in it, lending themselves to a score that only serves to nourish Fellner’s radiance. All the above shades of meaning cohere in Les cloches de Genève, by which the pianist elicits rich yet subtle sonorities.

If Liszt is a photographer, then Ludwig van Beethoven is a filmmaker whose magnum opus is surely the Sonata No. 32 in c minor. His Opus 111 shares its key signature with the Fifth Symphony and other monumental works, and provides a fitting end to his sonata cycle. As suggested in William Kinderman’s deeply considered liner essay, “The pair of movements of this sonata interact as a contrasting duality suggesting strife and fulfillment, evoking qualities which have stimulated much discussion, reminding commentators of the ‘here’ and the ‘beyond,’ or ‘samsara’ and ‘nirvana.’” Such spiritual language is no mere hyperbole, but an activation point of Beethoven’s grander concerns over the effects of art on the soul. As The Art of Fugue was to Bach, so is the Sonata No. 32 to Beethoven with regard to variation.

To be sure, Fellner touches upon those grander narratives, but more importantly keeps his ears attuned to the details. In the opening movement, for example, his arpeggios feel like quills on paper. Balancing stream-of-consciousness impulses with deeply articulated control, he links an unbreakable chain of progression. The second and final movement begins almost timidly, as if sifting through old notes for fear of what one might find, only to be surprised by a joy one never knew was waiting for rediscovery. Urgency compels the left hand while trills in the right signal a transformation of flesh into glory. “The transformational power of this closing music,” says Kinderman, “acts like a utopian symbol, which seeks to neutralize if not dispel the tragic reality embodied in the weighty opening movement of the work.” And perhaps weight is the most appropriate physical property by which to analyze what’s happening here, for regardless of size and scope, the relationship of every note to gravity is meticulously examined, its potential for flight believed in like a prayer.

Yuuko Shiokawa/András Schiff: Bach/Busoni/Beethoven (ECM New Series 2510)

Bach Busoni Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa
András Schiff
Bach/Busoni/Beethoven

Yuuko Shiokawa violin
András Schiff piano
Recorded December 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 27, 2017

Seventeen years separate the first appearance of Yuuko Shiokawa and pianist András Schiff on ECM’s New Series and this long-awaited follow-up. Here they bring their intimate knowledge and experience to bear on sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Through its sequence and execution, the program reveals as much richness of ideas within the pieces as between them.

Shiokawa Schiff
(Photo credit: Barbara Klemm)

Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1016, dating to his 1717-23 tenure as Kapellmeister at Köthen, is emblematic of a then-nascent genre, and finds both composer and interpreters ordering lines of many shapes and sizes. Schiff’s role at the keyboard is a challenging one, each hand operating independently yet with deep awareness of the other, while Shiokawa must paint with an actorly brush from first note to last. The vulnerability she brings to the opening Adagio is but one example of her ability to take something so lilting, so fragile, and render it impervious to the trampling feet of time. From there she takes us on a journey of inward focus, and by an interactive cartography traces bubbling streams to destinations of delight.

Although Busoni was more steeped in Bach than perhaps any composer before or since, one would be hard-pressed to find Baroque affinity in the first movement of his Sonata No. 2 in e minor, Op. 36a. Towering over a decidedly Beethovenian landscape, it leans toward and away from its historical precedents with fervor. Whereas single movements in the Bach were facets of a larger mosaic, each of Busoni’s sections is a sonata unto itself. The gargantuan final movement, however, is a theme and variations on the Bach chorale “Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen, wenn ich in deiner Liebe ruh,” as it appears in wife Anna Magdalena’s Clavier-Büchlein of 1725. Busoni’s 17-minute exegesis goes from funereal to exuberant and back again. Between those worthy bookends stand two slim, insightful volumes. Where the Presto is playful yet adhesive, the somber Andante treads over shifting terrain.

In light of these fantastic excursions, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G Major comes across as non-fiction. As the composer’s last violin sonata, it holds a status all its own, and its details are organically suited to the duo. Where the trills and harmonies of its Allegro yield an enchanting ripple effect, the Adagio holds us suspended as if in need of nothing more than a confirmation of breath. A brief Scherzo scales the highest peak before trekking down into an Allegretto with a joy given life through musicians who care genuinely for everything they touch. It’s therefore difficult to listen to this recording without reminding oneself that Shiokawa and Schiff are partners in both music and life. Not only because they play so lovingly, but also because they listen to each other with rapt attention, inspiring nothing short of the same.

Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (ECM 2527)

Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn
Daylight Ghosts

Craig Taborn piano, electronics
Chris Speed tenor saxophone, clarinet
Chris Lightcap double bass, guitar
Dave King drums, electronic percussion
Recorded May 2016 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Tim Marchiafava
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 3, 2017

In the footsteps of two successful leader dates for ECM, pianist Craig Taborn rolls the die of paradigm once again and hits a solid four with Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Chris Lightcap on bass and guitar, and Dave King on drums and electronic percussion. Opener “The Shining One” is sure to delight fans of label mate Tim Berne, whose penchant for complex geometry is echoed here. Comparison aside, there’s a DNA helix all its own down which these musicians slide toward endings as abrupt as their beginnings. Speed navigates the bandleader’s genetic code as if it were his own back yard, while Lightcap and King engage in sequencing that feels at once parasitic and parthenogenetic.

“Abandoned Reminder” unravels its story from whispering electronics, as Taborn narrates a ballad-turned-trip down a stairway of psychological proportion. Such changes are indicative of an overall constitution, which by suggestion of an unusual fluidity activates proteins in underused listening muscles. The title track and “The Great Silence” are remarkable in this regard. Their enmeshment of soft virtue and hard truth is the quartet’s calling card. Like the arpeggios that thread both in their final phases, they treat predictability as a springboard for its own undoing.

Says Taborn of working with such widely accomplished musicians, “This music trades on transparency. I wanted all the elements to be crystalline, so that the layers of the music work like a prism.” Indeed, prismatic effects abound throughout“New Glory,” in which Taborn and Speed exchange unveiled conversation, and “Ancient.” The latter’s transition from bass monologue to ritual confluence shows a band working with patience and detail. As the parts, so the whole. Whether in the resonant piano-drums duet of “Subtle Living Equations” or the cosmic textures of “Phantom Ratio,” which floats Speed’s tenor on an ocean of nostalgic loops, the effect is consistently appropriate to the theme at hand. And while Taborn’s writing tends to pay homage to those themes at microscopic levels, his nod to Roscoe Mitchell’s “Jamaican Farewell” sees the jewel for the facets, and shines a methodical light of appreciation through a heart whose every beat is musical gospel. This is good news indeed.

Shinya Fukumori Trio: For 2 Akis (ECM 2574)

For 2 Akis

Shinya Fukumori Trio
For 2 Akis

Matthieu Bordenave tenor saxophone
Walter Lang piano
Shinya Fukumori drums
Recorded March 2017, La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 16, 2018

When the sun shines, birds sing,
the oak woods here and there
grow hazy,
I’ll have dirty palms
that make a gritty noise.
–Kenji Miyazawa, “Spring” (trans. Hiroaki Sato)

For 2 Akis presents the ECM debut of drummer Shinya Fukumori. Born and raised in Osaka, he learned to play violin, piano, and guitar before relocating to the United States at 17 to pursue the drums. Yet after graduating from Berklee College of Music and immersing himself in the jazz canon, he became so inspired by classic ECM recordings, including Eberhard Weber’s Silent Feet and Keith Jarrett’s My Song, that he resolved himself to one day record for the label. Toward realizing that goal, he moved to Munich—a risky decision encouraged by this album’s dedicatory Akis, both affiliated with Osaka’s Interplay8 jazz club. In a categorically unmatched trio with fellow itinerant spirits Walter Lang (piano) and Matthieu Bordenave (tenor saxophone), Fukumori reimagines history as a process of ongoing revision.

Much of that revision is drawn through evocation of Japan’s Shōwa era (1926-89), a time marked by economic collapse on either end, between which unthinkable traumas transitioned into golden-age prosperity. Although his own life overlaps it a mere five years, he understands its nostalgic power as if through firsthand experience, expressed in his introverted approach to virtuosity. Such restraint indicates an artist unafraid to humble himself in silhouette against the movie screen of time on which montages of compassion flicker by. Thus, each tune of Fukumori’s selected corpus extends a narrative devoid of antagonists and bound by regressive politics of interpretation.

During the interwar period (1918-39), a concerted emphasis on delineation and preservation of folk customs infused all aspects of Japanese cultural life, including crafts, farming, and music. And it is perhaps with this timeline in mind that Fukumori begins his artful set with “Hoshi Meguri No Uta” (The Star-Circling Song). Written by literary icon Kenji Miyazawa, its original lyrics depict Polaris guiding readers on a tour of the visible universe. Fukumori likewise takes listeners by the gentlest of hands on a journey through bygone eras, along the way establishing a precedent of communication with his bandmates. In this context, Lang’s lyrical curiosity and Bordenave’s vulnerable yet integral tone are nothing less than the light to his stardust.

By the 1960s, Japan had recovered from World War II and poured renewed effort into rural development as a means of reforming national identity. It was also a time when nihon-chō kayōkyoku, or Japanese-style popular songs, infused public consciousness with their airs of better times. Presciently enough, the solitude and hardship so commonly examined in those songs foreshadowed the bubble whose burst would mark the end of the Shōwa, ushering in an era of hypermodernism and recovery. Before that key transition, however, songwriter Kei Ogura planted his “Ai San San” in the popular imagination. Its evocation of perseverance through rough times gifted an anthem of recovery before one was even needed. Made famous by actress and enka queen Hibari Misora when she released it as a single in 1986, it continues to feel premonition-worthy at a time when we could use a little calm from the storm.

The oldest song here is Rentarō Taki’s “Kōjō No Tsuki” (The Moon Over the Ruined Castle). Written in 1901, it’s a timeless meditation on the fleeting nature of things. As people and their traces come and go, it seems to say, only their love lingers, reflected in the waters of mortality. Jazz aficionados will recognize the tune by way of Thelonious Monk, who arranged his own version as “Japanese Folk Song” on 1967’s Straight, No Chaser. Says Fukumori of the version at hand: “Every Japanese child learns this song at school. The melody of the song is very Japanese, so it stands out and still sounds very authentic even though I have re-harmonized it and arranged it.” So begins a three-part suite, in which mallets elicit a soft vocabulary from the drums, shifting into pianistic shadow cast by a glowing saxophone before blending into Fukumori’s “The Light.” Like the title track, it showcases his compositional ability to activate dense reactions from delicate chemicals, proving that he and his trio are no strangers to urgency when needed. In that precise regard, the rounded peaks of emotional transference in “Silent Chaos” and “Spectacular” are emblematic of his optimism and gratitude.

All the more reason for listeners to hold in mind the timeline being explored therein. What appears to be another beauty in the form of “Mangetsu No Yube” (Full Moon Night) reveals itself to be a prayerful reaction to tragedy. Composed by Takashi Nakagawa and Hiroshi Yamaguchi in response tothe Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, it speaks the very language of connection that makes this band so transfixing. Lest we forget the potency of said language, we find two offerings by Lang (“No Goodbye” and “When The Day Is Done”) and one by Bordenave (“Émeraude”). All three are memories folded and unfolded, each more soulful than the last, as part of a collective dream.

It’s impossible to regard Fukumori as anything less than a rightful heir to Paul Motian’s legacy. His attention to detail, unflinching musicality, and penchant for understatement are rare in a musician so young (being 33 at the time of this recording). As when encountering Motian, this is music that demands the night. Anything less than total darkness would obscure its poetry against a market too often shouting with exposition.

Easily among ECM’s finest of the decade. Don’t miss it.

Björn Meyer: Provenance (ECM 2566)

Provenance

Björn Meyer
Provenance

Björn Meyer 6-string electric and acoustic bass guitars
Recorded August 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 15, 2017

Björn Meyer is perhaps best known to ECM listeners as bassist for Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin before leaving the band in 2012, and by his appearances on albums of Anouar Brahem, notably 2014’s Souvenance. But the kaleidoscope he has assembled for this 2017 solo album is as surprising as it is fated. Each of its twelve vignettes acts as a window not into but out of Meyer’s singular approach to his six-string electric and acoustic basses. Through their diurnal dialogues, he elicits a sundial’s worth of possible directions, transforming reveries into grounded experiences.

In the opening “Aldebaran,” exquisite suspensions of disbelief bleed into a space where contact of flesh on metal leaves traces of communication, and where the barest whisper of a string is also its credo. Its evocations of wind and water are shared by “Trails Crossing,” which finds Meyer riding a current of arpeggios, which by their changes of direction imply a crossing not only of trails but also of those traveling along them, as if at that meeting point one might witness souls jumping from body to body in search of blessed purpose.

The title track is a spectrum of emotional transference, a series of genetic equations spliced and sequenced into chains of melodic integrity. Here, as elsewhere along the album’s trajectory, tasteful applications of electronic delays and reverb magnify what is already felt spiritually. Where “Pendulum” and “Pulse,” for example, are linked to rhythms of movement, “Garden Of Silence” and “Three Thirteen” achieve their impact through understatement.

Against such fullness of expression, the acoustic bass provides ever-expanding possibilities, spanning the gamut from funky (“Squizzle”) to descriptive (“Merry-Go-Round”) and, when combined with electric (“Dance”), sonic origami in reverse. Just as the electric resonates through harmonic comet tails in “Traces Of A Song,” so does the acoustic seek an origin story to unite them both. And in “Garden Of Silence,” by harpist and singer Asita Hamidi (1961-2012), to whom this album is dedicated, he activates a trail of molecules from instinct to action that by the end leads us back to where we began, hopeful and with all the necessary gear intact.

Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is The Dream (ECM 2519)

The Dreamer Is The Dream

Chris Potter
The Dreamer Is The Dream

Chris Potter tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, ilimba, samples
David Virelles piano, celeste
Joe Martin double bass
Marcus Gilmore drums, percussion
Recorded June 2016 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Luke Klingensmith
Mixed December 2016 by James A. Farber, Manfred Eicher, and Chris Potter
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 21, 2017

Chris Potter’s third leader date for ECM reshuffles the reedman and composer’s deck into yet another brilliant stack. This ace of spades is joined by brothers of hearts (pianist David Virelles), clubs (bassist Joe Martin), and diamonds (drummer Marcus Gilmore) for a set of six road-tested originals that only seem to grow with repeat listening.

While Potter is known for his forthright tenor playing, “Heart In Hand” facilitates a soft landing into hard-won territory. In a relationship with piano that’s almost blood-related, Potter’s primary instrument fits itself into the valleys between the keys while bass and cymbals populate the land with flora and fauna of lush detail. As in the set’s closer, “Yasodhara,” the bandleader’s tone is the voice of a fertile crescent alive with constant invention. Not a breath feels wasted, nor does a single note from Virelles, whose sonic archaeology is equal parts fire and earth.

“Ilimba,” named for the Tanzanian thumb piano heard therein, locks Potter and Martin in step, while Virelles and Gilmore paint crosswise: the water to their wind. Amid Gilmore’s superlative patterning, Potter plants himself in enlightened soil. “Memory And Desire” is another surprise for its artful samples and folk-like soprano. Mind-melding with Virelles, it treats air as a surface to write across. The title track is the willow tree resulting from this natural assemblage. Featuring Potter on bass clarinet in a fronded system of branches, and an extended bass solo from Martin, who dismantles and rebuilds his ladder to the top until its structural integrity is infallible, it regards us from above as the sun dances on its own reflection. Squinting our eyes into its glare is all we can do to open our hearts and minds to its message. Not only is the dreamer the dream; the dream is also the dreamer.

Momo Kodama: Point and Line (ECM New Series 2509)

Point and Line

Momo Kodama
Point and Line

Momo Kodamapiano
Recorded January 2016, Historischer Reitstadel, Neumarkt
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 27, 2017

Four years after making her ECM New Series debut with La vallée des cloches, pianist Momo Kodama returns with a program that is equally adventurous in expectation and inevitable in hindsight, this time shuffling the Études pour piano, L 136 (1915) of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Etude I-VI for piano, SJ 1180 (2011-13) of Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) into an integrated experience. Having performed both cycles separately, here Kodama imagines them in dialogue with each other. “A number of elements in Hosokawa’s music,” she writes in her liner note, “make me sense a proximity to Debussy. One is the freedom of its formal design; another is its interplay and layering of colors. What I fins especially remarkable in both is a capacity for poetic utterance and ranges widely between lyricism and drama, between meditation and virtuosic display.” As in acts of translation between languages, what separates is also what binds, and Kodama is a masterful interpreter in that regard, fluent as she is in every dialectical nuance at hand.

“Hand” is indeed the operative word, as Kodama’s parallel communicators ride over the intimate cascades of Debussy’s Etude XI before swirling the waters below in defiance of prettiness. Thus, whatever conversational approach we might attribute to process isn’t necessarily between two (or more) people, but rather between different shades of the same musical self. Kodama’s rendering thereof illuminates a cohesive identity, and she, as surely the composers themselves, revels in disruptions, treating each as an opportunity for productive change.

Hosokawa’s Etude II, from which this album get its name, takes its descriptive heading with beautiful literalness, contrasting sustained notes and dotted clusters, the latter as sprays of baby’s breath in a wider bouquet. A spirit of favorable conflict prevails, as also in Debussy’s Etude III, wherein points and lines are converted into poetry. Not that what follows is a series of impressionistic vignettes, but a space in which every utterance counts. As dynamics lob from soft to loud and back again, we are primed for the versification of Hosokawa’s “Calligraphy, Haiku, 1 Line” (Etude III), of which dramatic outbursts amid resonant silences become organic allies.

As the composers continue to seesaw between foreground and background, something surprising begins to happen: we begin to lose track of who wrote what. For while the reveries of Etudes IV and VIII have an obviously Debussean flavor, we might also read distinctly Hosokawan associations into the second and first etudes. And while the tail-chasing details of Hosokawa’s first and fourth etudes reveal a childlike dedication to play (the latter’s subtitle, “Ayatori, Magic by 2 Hands, 3 Lines,” makes reference to the cat’s cradle game), his respect for Debussy peeks from behind the curtains of “Lied, Melody” (Etude VI), a high point that pushes darkness and light through lattices of memory.

Retrospection seems equally vital to sustaining Debussy’s mocking Etude I and Hosokawa’s visceral “Anger” (Etude V), and by the emotional clarity of those expressions turns anticipation into reflection. Like Debussy’s Etude VII, they draw a compass between our ears, for while the notes may go up and down, the hands travel right and left, leaving us with a navigational instrument to cherish as we leave this land behind into uncharted waters.

Tigran Mansurian: Requiem (ECM New Series 2508)

2508 X

Tigran Mansurian
Requiem

Anja Petersen soprano
Andrew Redmond bass
RIAS Kammerchor
Münchener Kammerorchester

Alexander Liebreich conductor
Recorded January 2016, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dahlem, Berlin
Engineers: Peter Laenger and Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 17, 2017

ECM’s sixth album dedicated to Tigran Mansurian is a reference recording of his Requiem. Dedicated to victims of the Armenian genocide in Turkey that killed approximately one million people between 1915 and 1917, and composed a century later, it blends Continental and Orthodox traditions in a manner that is as unexpected as it is creatable by no other author. “The essence of the problem,” notes Mansurian of his process this time around, “was the existence of certain differences in the readings of religious texts between the Armenian Church and, say, the Roman Catholic Church. The psychology of a believer who represents a nation that has long been without an independent state differs sharply from the psychology of a believer at whose back stands a powerful religious community and centuries of independent statehood.” In this respect, he isn’t simply composing in a liminal space but also inviting the listener to light a candle in that space and pray in its glow.

A requiem challenges anyone wishing to write one, and for some has been a rite of passage. Mansurian struggled with the form for years, writing a handful of distinct attempts before abandoning them in favor of the one gifted to us here. Although scored for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus and string orchestra, its collective spirit renders those solo roles—filled with emotional veracity by Anja Petersen and Andrew Redmond, respectively—in the “Tuba mirum” and “Domine Jesu Christe” as something more than representational; rather, they are two rays in a sun’s worth of individual voices. In humbler terms, their relationship to the larger assembly is as leaves to a tree, crying for acknowledgment with what little water they have left before their severed roots catch up with them. Such acts of violence, themselves stemming from a dark place, nevertheless confirm God’s grace to pull tortured souls from a tragic world into one that never trembles in fear of mortal sin.

Before we tread too deeply into these forests of mirrors, we begin with an airier “Requiem aeternam,” in which unrequited lives hold their hearts in their hands. Strings shift eerily from foreground to background in metaphysical exchange, presaging their playful relationship to choral motives in the “Kyrie.” Dances are brief and unsustainable, flowing like two separate rivers joining to cascade over the cliff of the “Dies irae.” Their urgency is jagged yet interlocking: a puzzle of mortality putting itself together despite our best attempts to upset it. The suspended animation of the “Lacrimosa” is echoed in the meditative “Agnus Dei,” and between them an insistent “Sanctus” which creates its own call and response of spirit, flesh, and remembrance.

Listening to Mansurian’s Requiem is like watching a film that weaves archival footage into freshly choreographed scenes of historical reckoning. It’s as if the cover image, depicting Armenian deportees trekking through the desert toward Aleppo, Syria, were coming to life, every figure contributing to the prescience of the whole, shaking their heads at what we have become.

Barre Phillips: End To End (ECM 2575)

End To End

Barre Phillips
End To End

Barre Phillips double bass
Recorded March 2017, La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: September 7, 2018

When bassist Barre Phillips began his diaristic exploration of the double bass in 1968 with Journal Violone (the sequel to which found its way onto ECM in 1980), little did anyone know it would reach its destination half a century later. This album’s title, End To End, thus signals the closing of a circle filled by one of the instrument’s most stalwart innovators. Divided into three retrospectively titled sections, the program is reflective of both his ability to say so much with so little and of producer Manfred Eicher’s to understand the grander narrative of which that little is a part.

Quest
From the first pizzicato strains, it’s clear that Phillips is one who thinks not only through the bass, but also from it. Every note belongs. When he applies bow to strings, there’s a confident vulnerability to its pulse. It moves like windblown leaves with just enough sunlight peering through to bring a childhood memory into focus. His breathing, when audible, imbues glissandi with sentience. When not audible, it curls up as if in hibernation for melodic spring. In that dream state, it embraces the possibilities of dissonance, harmonics, and other subtly applied contacts. Part 4, in which he taps out a Morse code of mortality, is especially moving for its urgency. So, too, is his own quest for unspooling page after brilliant page, each awaiting the caress of post-production ink.

Inner Door
Phillips takes out a metaphorical microscope and through it shows his art to be a parthenogenetic wonder. Double stops resound with all the power of a mantra, and by their appearance activate particles of moonlight. Here his bow is the wand of a master storyteller, one whose choice of words is as organic as the imagery they describe. The rhythms of an aging body, creaking joints and all, reveal a greater force at work.

Outer Window
From that introversion we get the sunbeams of this final section. Although similar in spirit to what preceded it, it takes the most intimate turns yet, and by those paths draws an equation of visceral extroversion. Now the microscope is swapped for a telescope. He peers through it, only to see a twin figure with the exact same setup looking back at him. In those last moments, flesh dies and stars are born, never to be captured again by glass and curious regard.