Michael Rosenstein - Point of Departure
The fruitful collaboration between the Lithuanian NoBusiness and Japanese ChapChap labels continues in fine form with this live bass duo recording from Barre Phillips and Motoharu Yoshizawa. The set, recorded in April 1994 at Café Amores, Hofu, Yamaguchi, Japan, is a consummate matching of two bass masters. Both began recording and performing solos in the ‘60s and they bring that steadfast probing of their instruments to this spontaneous duo. They also bring a deep-seated sense of musical investigation and collective discovery. Clocking in at 1 hour and 15 minutes, it is remarkable that the two pieces on this disc capture only part of the performance. The opening 40-minute duo was released on ChapChap’s Live “Okidoki” and the entire performance went for over three hours!
The disc begins with “Oh My!,” an expansive 55-minute improvisation. Immediately, one hears the contrast between Phillips’ acoustic bass and Yoshizawa’s homemade electric vertical five-string instrument. The darker, amplified tone and electronic shadings of Yoshizawa’s instrument provide a perfect foil for Phillips’ warm resonance. The two adeptly mine the dusky attack and reverberant sustain of their instruments, patiently building an intertwined dialog of plucked lines, tawny arco, scuttling overtones, and percussive counterpoint. Initially, the pace is measured as they settle in, then about 9 minutes in the momentum starts to mount with a passage of shuddering, sonorous arco. That acrobatic balance continues throughout the piece, with sections of brooding stillness that give way to lithe dynamism. Midway through, their twinned arco, tinged by Yoshizawa’s electronic treatments, becomes orchestral in depth and the richness of timbres and layering. But then, like a changeable sky, they open things up again with a strappingly active section of crackling bowed interchange. During the final section, Yoshizawa introduces Theremin-like sliding sonorities and skittering electronic oscillations, providing apt contrast to Phillips’ rounded tone and more angular attack.
After the almost hour-long tour de force of the opener, the second improv, titled “Those Boys,” starts with more open, spiky interplay. Yoshizawa’s electronic treatments percolate against Phillips’ most spunky, forceful playing of the set. Over the course of 20 minutes, the improvisation has a more restless edge to it, shifting course with mercurial verve. Phrases whiz by with bristling abandon as the two spontaneously steer the arc of the piece. Midway through, Yoshizawa caroms sinuous arco lines off of Phillips’ burred, groaning bowing, which push things off on a spiky trajectory. The final section launches into a flurry of countervailing bowed lines which amass into dense swirls, gradually decelerating to a poised calm. While the playing in this piece is often more boisterous than the opening improvisation, it never lacks a sense of careful listening on the part of the two players. This one is another winner from the ChapChap vaults and is a worthy addition to Phillips’ incredible string of bass duos with musicians like Dave Holland, Peter Kowald, Joelle Leandre, and Barry Guy.