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Barre Phillips

By Published: May 12, 2004
BP: I can't think of any of the bass duo records, not that's there masses of them, where there wasn't already a musical and personal affinity between the two of us going back to the first duo record with Dave Holland ( Music from Two Basses , ECM, 1971). Mutual respect and having fun together, none of those of the duo records was it a business arrangement - 'I've got this idea, you guys come to the studio, don't know each other but...' - a record date. I mean the original was proposed by Manfred Eicher, it wasn't mine or Dave's idea to record in duo. He came to us and said 'I would like to do this' at a time when were both together playing in another project. We looked at each other and said, 'Hmm, oh that sounds scrumptious, wow, two basses, alright!'

AAJ: Is your playing different solo than in a group?

BP: It's a matter of playing by ear rather than with a game plan or some kind of intellectual approach from a point of view of ideas, intellectual ideas. In playing improvised music it's a matter of what the ear is telling me to play and that my job, my discipline in that, is to be able to play what I'm hearing in my head. A good example in recent years is with [Paul] Bley and Evan Parker. I really hear as a bassist, I really hear that stuff as a bassist, I hear what they're doing, or if it's a duo moment, in the old polyphonic contrapuntal way so I recognize it in myself. I had a lot of years in improvisation to work on that playing with John Surman who improvised 99% of the time with notes using intervals playing polyphonically, two-voice counterpoint. Which I love to do and he loved to do and we did quite well get into that kind of playing was wonderful, to develop, to get your ear chops together, to get the correspondence of what you're hearing and what's coming out of your instrument, is it the same thing? That's about the best you can hope, that you can play what you're hearing, that's to me the highest part of the art. After that to be able to evaluate it, is it worth something or not, that you can do listening back to it years later... The ear always seems to be going a lot further and faster than what your body can do in terms of technique.

In terms of playing solo I do exactly the same thing. I start listening to what I'm playing about five minutes before I'm supposed to go on. I start listening to what's going on in the room so when I walk out I'm already hearing what's going on rather than say 'I'll start with #6' or something (laughs) or make a program. And I have had enough positive public acceptance with this process to allow me to go on, to continue to work in this way.

Recommended Listening:

  • Attila Zoller - The Horizon Beyond (Emarcy-ACT, 1965)
  • Dave Holland/Barre Phillips - Music from Two Basses (ECM, 1971)
  • The Dawn Sessions (Dawn-Sequel, 1970-71)
  • Gunter Hampel All-Stars - Jubilation (Birth, 1983)
  • Paul Bley/Evan Parker/Barre Phillips - Sankt Gerold (ECM, 2001)
  • Joe/Mat Maneri Ensemble - Going to Church (AUM Fidelity, 2002)

Photo Credit
Jacky Lepage

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