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.
Ken Waxman - JAZZWORD
With the dexterity and ingenuity internalized after years of music making, venerable double bass doyens, American Barre Phillips and the late Japanese Motoharu Yoshizawa combined for more than 75 minutes of contemplative improvisations. Recorded in 1994, as Yoshizawa (1931-1998) was feeling the impending end of his career as Japan’s most eminent Free Music bassist, the CD also serves as a prelude to the adroit creativity Phillips (b. 1934) would continue to exhibit into the next century,
Although close in age, the under-recognized Yoshizawa and Phillips had similar views on their chosen instrument’s substance. Recording with Derek Bailey, Kaoru Abe, Elliott Sharp and Masayuki Takayanagi, Yoshizawa also concentrated in solo bass excursions from the late 1960s on. Known as the first musician to record a wholly improvised solo bass session, Phillips has lived full-time in France since the early 1970s, and followed a wide-ranging career that began with playing Jazz with committed types such as Archie Shepp and Stu Martin; later establishing himself as one of Free Music’s paramount string players in large and small ensembles; and most prominently maintaining a decades-long trio association with two Swiss nationals, saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and pianist Jacques Demierre.
With that configuration years in the future, Phillips who plays conventional bull fiddle here, takes the roles of anchor, conciliator and formalist, keeping his forays within the expected range of the instrument. Meanwhile playing a home-made electric vertical 5-string bass, Yoshizawa is ostensibly the joker in this deck of cards, although his string-strategies aren’t that much different than Phillips’s.
A clear demarcation of their roles comes on the shorter – slightly longer than 20 minutes – track, “Those Boys”. Prepared with effects, it’s as if Yoshizawa’s instrument is signal processing twangs and rumbles from within its body, oscillating impulses that unfold alongside his pizzicato and Arco considerations. Swelling and shrinking, his detuned vibrations frame Phillips’ chunkier string narratives. Guiding the exposition through wood-rapping, while picking and bowing his string set at the same time, the American finally corrals Yoshizawa’s traffic-jam-like disruptions into a linear form that in the end turn to a showcase both splintered and soothing.
Less persuasive, “Oh My” sometimes goes in-and-out of focus as the two maintain an improvisation over almost 55 minutes. Here’s where the non-visual aspect come into play, Unable to watch the experience unfolding, what in real time would be revealed as cause and effect is sometime presented in a vacuum. Both players are too accomplished to let this trope continue for long. But from the time mallet-slapped string reverberations are produced at the be3ginning, the strategy involves one player advancing the narrative chromatically and the other decorating it with as many sul tasto squeals, spiccato jolts and torque high-pitched timbres as possible. One sequence climaxes when spindly shrills and tripled stops are subordinated to almost concert hall formality from bowed bass lines, though so closely attuned are the two that they could be a single person playing a multi-string Sardinian guitar. Slightly before the half-way mark a rapprochement is reached with one bassist thumping expected double bass timbres and the other spiccato feints in the cello range. While this sequence climaxes with a secondary melody and its extension created, most likely from Phillips, the sonic journey that leads to it involves the duo digging deeper and deeper into their instruments’ lowest pitches, with singular bell-like tone heard as they negotiate the journey one string at a time. Yoshizawa’s coiled-spring like warbles are distinctive, as are Phillips’ ambulatory pace that grounds the duet. Finally with the dark woodiness of both instruments’ concentrated into a blended continuum, the final section is revealed as serious-minded and majestic.
Top-flight instances of committed low-pitched innovators craft, the CD reveals much about in-the-moment dual improvising. Mercurial rather than melodic in application, true sonic rewards come in carefully following every moment’s twists, turns, upending and realigning of the presentation.