Dave Phillips is a bassist for all occasions. Whether leading his adventurous jazz quartet Freedance, weaving supple lines in the rootsy improvisational trio led by accordionist Will Holshouser, holding forth in a chamber orchestra or anchoring a Broadway pit band, Phillips has established himself over the past 15 years as an invaluable collaborator capable of elevating just about any musical situation.
The primary creative outlet for the New York City-based bassist is Freedance, featuring guitarist Rez Abbasi, alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher and percussionist Tony Moreno. The quartet marked its 12th year together in 2004 with a series of high-profile concerts, including the Radio France festival in Montpellier France. The July performance was underwritten by a grant from Arts International and is slated for released as the band’s third CD.
The quartet’s distinctive sound flows both from its wide range of European influences and Phillip’s strikingly lyrical bowed solos. “I’m not a chops heavy player in terms of notes per measure,” Phillips says. “I get more into tone and sound.” While Freedance started as a cooperative group, after a few years it become a vehicle for Phillips’ writing. He composed most of the material on the quartet’s acclaimed, self-named debut on Naxos Jazz in 2000, and all of the compositions for the 2003 follow up on Sound Street Records, Prayer.
The group recently finished work on a third studio album, scheduled for release in 2005, and Freedance will be performing widely throughout the year, with concerts in Mexico City, San Luis Potosi, Los Angeles, Denver, Santa Fe, Phoenix, New York City and a fourth annual tour in Europe.
For Phillips, pursuing a career as a bass player was the most natural of paths, albeit one that took him through an emotional minefield. Born in Berkeley and raised in San Jose, California, he is the son of Barre Phillips, the pioneering avant garde jazz bassist who collaborated with seminal figures such as pianist/composer George Russell, reed master Jimmy Giuffre and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. By 1970 Barre had relocated to southern France, jamming with John Lennon and Yoko Ono along the way. But even from Europe he cast a long shadow for his son, who made several long French sojourns to visit him while growing up.
After graduating from San Jose’s Oak Grove High School in 1980, Phillips joined his father in France and spent six years there, honing his bass chops in a wide variety of contexts, playing French folk music, accompanying a singer from Cameroon and leading a jazz string trio with guitar and violin. Though Barre remained rather aloof from his musical pursuits, the bass has ended up bringing them together.