Barre Phillips in New York

Barre Phillips

Zürcher Gallery

By Christian Carey

Sequenza 21

May 20, 2019

Barre Phillips

NEW YORK – ECM Records has released a number of great solo bass recordings. The label’s producer, Manfred Eicher, was himself a bassist, and he has invited a number of fellow low string players to record for ECM. Barre Phillips is a pathfinder in the genre, releasing one of the first solo bass recordings, Journal Violone, on Opus One in 1968. Eicher and he have been keen collaborators for many years, beginning in 1971 with a duo recording of Phillips with Dave Holland, Music from Two Basses, the first of its kind, which was followed by a number of solo and ensemble outings for ECM. In 2018, the imprint released what was announced as Phillips last solo CD, End to End, which he called the last entry in his “Journal Violone.” 

It has been more than thirty years since Phillips last performed in New York. Originally from San Francisco and long a resident of France, much of the bassist’s career has been made playing in Europe. On Monday, May 20th, he appearedat the Zürcher Gallery, an art venue on Bleecker Street in lower Manhattan. The crowd was standing room only and contained a number of jazz and experimental music luminaries. They were attentive and enthusiastic throughout. 

Phillips turns eighty-five in October. In his performance on Monday night, he appeared energetic and fit. He easily hoisted a sizeable double bass to his shoulder, and deftly moved it around to play its entirety: not just the strings. His playing and demeanor are vibrant, inquisitive, and often imbued with puckish humor. 

The bassist gave a veritable masterclass of standard and extended playing techniques. The latter appear prolifically on End to End, among them high harmonics, different varieties of strumming such as plucking notes with both hands, a number of approaches to bowing, microtones, glissandos, and all manner of percussive playing. However, the CD intersperses these with a fair bit of cantabile playing. Less of that was on offer live. Instead, with a mischievous twinkle and disarming banter, Phillips went to work showing what it meant to “do your own thing” when, as he described it, career paths in more traditional jazz and classical music were denied him. 

Each piece, most of them improvised but some selections fromEnd to End that had been crafted into compositions, centered on a different palette of techniques. At times Phillips played his instrument caressingly, seeming to coax delicate high notes and thrumming vibrations from the strings at a pianissimo dynamic. At others, he virtually attacked the instrument, scratching it from stem to stern with his bow. If a luthier were in attendance, they would have likely had a panic attack. 

There was considerable variation in the harmonic vocabulary employed. Some of the music was in the ‘out’ post-tonal language of free jazz. Phillips also supplied an etude of octaves, another of open string drones, a third a chameleon-like shift to Eastern scales and gestures, and on “Inner Door, Pt. 4,” a plaintive modal jazz solo grounded in double-stopped fifths. Here, as elsewhere, Phillips displayed a penchant for executing a long, unerringly controlled decrescendo, bringing the music to a whispered close. Zürcher was an ideal location in which to hear these small details: an intimate space but one with good acoustics.

It is unfortunate that New Yorkers haven’t had more opportunities to hear Barre Phillips up close and personal. His performance was an unforgettable experience. Phillips joins Mat Maneri, Emilie Lesbros, and Hank Roberts for a performance on Saturday night at 8 PM at Brooklyn’s I-Beam. One more chance …    

-Christian Carey

Torres: “Three Futures” live on WFUV (Video)

Torres

Torres

Three Futures

4AD

 

Torres’ Three Futures is one of 2017’s most noteworthy indie releases and perhaps its best at dealing with gender issues in a courageous fashion. When recording the album, Brooklynite Mackenzie Scott, who uses Torres as her creative name, couldn’t have known about the sex scandals that would occur in popular culture in the late part of this year. However, there are resonances in her work to ideas of agency for females (for all gender identifications, really) to make choices about their bodies and private lives that both celebrate consensual relationships and protect themselves from exploitative behavior.

While the recording’s lyrics are powerful, and occasionally audacious, they are matched by equally compelling music. Torres has incorporated a broader range of synthesizers into her sound and layers of these are placed alongside her adroit rhythm guitar playing and a catchy spate of rhythms from bass and drums. Although the arrangements supply a great deal of variety using this instrumental template, it is likely Torres’ voice that listeners will remember most clearly. An alto with a chocolate-tinged lower register and secure upper notes, her singing alternately croons, growls, and dips into a sepulchral chest voice. Like the idea of Three Futures, the singing effectively takes on these three roles, replicating varying identities with poise, power, and sympathy. Recommended.

“Three Futures” on KEXP (YouTube).

“New Skin” live on KEXP (YouTube).

Xordox – Neospection (CD Review)

Thirlwell

JG Thirlwell

Xordox

Neospection

Editions Mego

xordox - neospection

JG Thirlwell has recorded under several monikers and with various bands (Frank Want, Clint Ruin, Foetus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, et cetera). Xordox is his latest project, recorded both at Self Immolation Studios in Brooklyn and as part of a residency at EMS in Stockholm, Sweden.

Thirlwell primarily plays synthesizers here, employing an almost martial barrage of digital patches redolent of 80s sci-fi soundtrack work alongside more ethereal analog electronics and breathy samples. Sarah Lipstate joins Thirwell on three  tracks, adding hyper-processed guitar to the proceedings. “Diamonds,” the opening track (listen below), overlays multiple arpeggiations and pulsating synths to create a fascinating rhythmic grid. Over this are added still another layer of dramatic chord progressions. “Antidote” features an ostinato pattern of unequal beats (3+3+2) over which portentous strings are at play and underneath which a gloomy bass line holds court. Lipstate makes a cameo to revel in the groove, which is followed by a massive pileup that leads the piece towards its conclusion. Suddenly, the brakes slam on the forte sounds and we are left with a puzzling piano outtro.

On “Pink Eye,” synth brass stabs and thrumming electronic drums are set against ominous sustained notes and whirring glissandos. The most substantial track on the recording, the fourteen and a half minute long album closer “Asteroid Dust,” is a sly nod to game music. At the same time, it also contains a fascinating use of ostinatos as unifying factors over which melodic scraps and extraterrestrial explosions are given relatively free reign. On the latter half of the track, there’s an adroit incorporation of pitch bends to give microtonal inflections.

Neospection strikes a nice balance of process music, ambience, and spacy aggression. Imagine Blade Runner’s denizens visiting a club where Whovians congregate in the parking lot and you have a fair sense of the affective juxtapositions Thirlwell successfully undertakes.

Blue Streak Ensemble Visits New York

brouwer
Composer Margaret Brouwer’s Blue Streak Ensemble visits New York on Sunday and Monday with a free concert in Brooklyn and a modestly priced one in Manhattan.
Good new music ensembles have a programming ethos. Brouwer’s curation is decidedly eclectic encompassing, on one end of the spectrum, some of the more intricate lieder by Johannes Brahms and, on the other, contemporary works for electronics by Mario Davidovsky and Andrew Rindfleisch. Somewhere in the middle of this stylistic orbit are pieces by Chen Yi and John Harbison. 
So, refreshingly, stylistic features or agendas aren’t an issue when it comes to programming. One might say that Brouwer celebrates the old saying, “variety is the spice of life.” This allows us to enjoy a diverse program unified by the talents of persuasive performers Sarah Beaty, Erika Dohi, Kimia Ghaderi and Haruka Fujii.
blue streak
Sunday, July 12, 20153:00 PM
St. John’s Episcopal Church
139 St. John’s Place
Brooklyn, NY
(Near the 2, 3, B, Q, and R lines)
Free admission, no tickets required.
Monday, July 13, 20157:30 PM
Marc A. Scorca Recital Hall, 7th floor
330 7th Avenue (at West 29th St.)
New York, NY
(Steps away from the 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, N, Q, and R lines)
Tickets are $15 in advance through Eventbrite, and $20 at the door. Student tickets are half price. Price includes a wine reception following the performance.
PROGRAM
Margaret Brouwer: Declaration, for mezzo soprano, violin and piano (East Coast premiere)
Clint Needham: On the Road for violin and piano
Andrew Rindfleisch: Listen, for electronic playback
John Harbison: Two Arias from The Great Gatsby 
Huang Ruo: Sound of Hand for percussion (July 13 only)
Chen Yi: From Old Peking Folklore, for violin and piano
Johannes Brahms: Von ewiger Liebe, Mädchenlied and Ständchen, for mezzo and piano (July 12 only)
Mario Davidovsky: Synchronisms No. 9 for solo violin and electronic sounds
PERFORMERS
Haruka Fujii, percussion (July 13 only)
Sarah Beaty, mezzo soprano
Kimia Ghaderi, violin
Erika Dohi, piano