Barre Phillips

End to End
ECM 2575

Mark Dresser

Modicana

NoBusiness NBLP 109

Sébastien Beliah

Nocturnes

Umlaut Records UMfr-cd 27

Solo double bass albums, at least those of a freely improvised bent, have a clearly defined genesis: Barre Phillips’ Journal Violone in 1968. Forty years later such a move is no longer novel, but part of the bucket list of many bassists. Completing his own journey, Phillips, now 84, claims that End to End is his last solo bass disc – of which he has recorded several in the interim. Consider how he approaches the challenge, along with newer solo bass excursions by San Diego-based Mark Dresser, 66, who is part of the next generation of exceptional low-string soloists; and much younger Paris-based double bass player Sébastien Beliah.

San Francisco-born Phillips, who has lived in Europe since the late 1960s, has performed with ensembles ranging from The London Jazz Composers Orchestra to a co-op trio with Urs Leimgruber and Jacques Demierre. His approach to this purported swan song is to show all the extended techniques he has invented and used over the years. Divided into three multi-sectioned sequences, the most moving among them is the four-part “Inner Door”. With the symbolism of each title known only to Phillips, this door-portrait begins with clear, clean accelerating scale variations before it segues into sul tasto stops that express heartbreak as well as hardiness. With juddering textures that could come from a squeaky door hinge introduced to the mix, the climax not only confirms the bassist’s still extant, guitar-like string facility, but also his ability to later moderate sound pulsing in such a way that darker vibrations continue the story without breaking the mood. Faint flamenco-like rasgueado plus triple stopping highlight many of the other sections. Yet consistently, as in the finale to “Quest”, the multi-string Arco expression and emphasized liquid vibrations are in the service of expressive emotionalism, with string stopping and timbre sectioning in subsequent tracks, ending as soaring descriptions of harmonized passion that lead to mellow resolutions.

Dresser, on the other hands, who has played with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Satoko Fujii, invests his seven tracks with unbridled energy. His dynamic string capability is such that even on “For Glen Moore” his collection of running stops and mid-range dynamics serves as a salute to the bassist from Oregon without ever touching the other bull fiddler’s chosen low-pitched style. Able to throb thickened downward-moving tones and dynamic high-pitched guitar-like pulses with the same facility, his creativity is constant in both Arco and pizzicato modes. While string buzzing on a track such as “Modicana Shakeratu Non Zuccheratu” confirms his rhythmic skills, Dresser can also propel flat line timbres, and never loses sight of chromatic motion. Furthermore and crucially, other excursions such as “Threaded” and “Modicana Panettiere” show that he can produce dazzling stops and spiccato thumps off-handed and moderato without resorting to bravado at extreme pitches.

In contrast to his elders, Beliah who moves between notated and improvised music with ensembles like the Umlaut big band and Un Poco Loco conceives of his two-track document as extended essays in meiosis. As his twisted and jagged strokes evolve in a pointillist fashion the mellow introduction adds vibrations and echoes as it picks up speed. Building up a collection of drone tones, the bassist keeps the buzzing continuum from overpowering the narrative by first ricocheting one off the other, then by the completion of “Nocturne No. 1” fragmenting the timbres into complete abstraction without a terrestrial centre. As high-pitched needle-thin vibrations move upfront during the shorter “Nocturne No. 2”, the piece solidifies again, only to agilely disintegrate, speeding up but remaining aharmonic and dissonant. Finally with an inchoate shake that confirm its rhythmic impetus, the selection fades without ever becoming more assertive.

While solo bass excursions may be an acquired taste, each of these expositions contains enough surprises to maintain interest. Any comprehensive listen provides definite examples of the improvising double bass’ past, present and future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: End: Quest: 1. (Part 1) 2. (Part 2) 3. (Part 3) 4. (Part 4) 5. (Part 5) Inner Door: 6. (Part 1) 7. (Part 2) 8. (Part 3) 9. (Part 4) Outer Window: 10. (Part 1) 11. (Part 2) 12. (Part 3) 13. (Part 4)

Personnel: End: Barre Phillips (bass)

Track Listing: Modicana: 1. Invocation Umea 2. For Glen Moore 3.Threaded 4. Hobby Lobby Horse 5. Modicana Teatro Greco 6. Modicana Shakeratu Non Zuccheratu 7. Modicana Panettiere

Personnel: Modicana: Mark Dresser (bass)

Track Listing: Nocturnes: 1. Nocturne No. 1 2. Nocturne No. 2

Personnel: Nocturnes: Sébastien Beliah (bass)