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.
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.
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.
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.