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In a brief interview segment included in the extra features of Live in Vienna, bassist Barre Phillips discusses the foundation of improvising. He speaks of music-making in terms of vocabulary, a musical language, which a player uses in lieu of structure to make recognizable statements. The solo performance that makes up the bulk of this DVDrecorded in Vienna on February 19, 2005 thus functions as a pocket Barre dictionary.
Phillips can arguably be called the father of the solo bass. His Journal Violone (Opus One, 1968) set the standard for unaccompanied bass albums, from the likes of Barry Guy and Peter Kowald to Mark Dresser and Tatsu Aoki. Much of the vocabulary he has developed over his decades of free playing is present here, yet this disc is hardly a clinic. It can be used as such by aspiring young bassists, but primarily the video captures an evening in the very creative life of Phillips.
The camera angles are various and imaginative and the sound detailed and nuanced. For four solo pieces, Phillips ranges from sonorous pizzicato to chittering arco to numerous extended techniques both on the neck and away from it. What distinguishes Phillips' approach is that the improvisations all sound distinct; the pacing, technical facility and melodic sense are personally identifiable statements, remarkable given their spontaneity. On the fifth piece, Phillips invites drummer John Hollenbeck to join him for a long dialogue, Phillips continuing in the vein of the earlier pieces as Hollenbeck complements the bassist with myriad percussive devices laid on top of piano strings.
The five tracks unfold across 50 minutesexemplars of elegance and thoughtfulness even at their most frenetic. Each presents Phillips as the inimitable linguist he always is.
Tracks: Five Improvisations
Personnel: Barre Phillips: bass; John Hollenbeck: percussion (#5).
Production Notes: 75 minutes. Recorded February 19, 2005 at Porgy n' Bess, Vienna, Austria. Extras: Interview; Discography.