Barre Phillips: Music By… (ECM 1178)

 

Barre Phillips
Music By…

Barre Phillips bass
Aina Kemanis voice
John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet
Herve Bourde alto and tenor saxophones, flutes
Claudia Phillips voice
Pierre Favre drums, percussion
Recorded May 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Long before Twitter was a microblogging phenomenon, it was the name of the first cut on this out-of-print gem from Barre Phillips. Thankfully, there is nothing micro about it. Driven by train-like syncopation from drums and bass clarinet, this attention-grabbing burst of virtuosity introduces us to the bubbling acrobatics of daughter Claudia Phillips, a vocalist whose career as chanteuse found a niche in France in the 80s. Her sometimes-manic instincts are swept down the stream of Aina Kemanis, the voice of Journal Violone II. Together they form a magic triangle with John Surman’s own sinewy lines. With such exuberance and glottal depth as Claudia displays here, one can hardly keep one’s ears focused on anything but her brilliance. Her siren-like spindles prove to be a guiding force in the more freely improvised “Angleswaite” and, with Kemanis, trace fluid arcs in “Elvid Kursong” and drop like spores in “Pirthrite.” The latter is a bizarrely martial excursion that is at once march and requiem, made all the more so through the liquid alto of Herve Bourde. These facets contract into a single plane in “Longview.” Here, Claudia comes to life in a bubbling stutter, soon overtaken by Bourde’s tenor, left of center. “Entai” and “Double Treble” sound like an ice-skating bass and clarinet struggling for balance over a warping record, compressing the album into more rudimentary ciphers.

This is yet another fascinating cell in the stained glass window that is Barre Phillips, capturing both the thrill and pain of modernism and those quiet moments, few and far between, where the soul kisses the brow of alienation. The content is brought to fervent life by an impassioned participation that frolics at the intersection of speech and song. As a longtime fan of the Cocteau Twins and Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that drives it, I have sometimes wondered what she might have sounded like had she made an ECM album. With Music By… we begin to approach one possible answer.