Expatriate American bassist Barre Phillips is the banner name on another in the Chap Chap series of improvised encounters from Japan issued by the NoBusiness imprint. He boasts an illustrious back-story. His Journal Violone (Opus One,1968) is reputed to be the first solo bass album, while Music From Two Basses (ECM, 1971) with Dave Holland was probably the first record of improvised double bass duets. So it's no surprise that the veteran bassist demonstrates such mastery of the form on this 75-minute 1994 live date which pairs him with Japanese fellow practitioner Motoharu Yoshizawa.
Phillips, who occupies the left channel on the recording, makes glorious and musical use of the whole of the instrument's resources. He loads his poetic lines with an austere beauty, but also supplements almost every note with a litany of tiny gestures -strums, harmonics or vibrato -which amplify the expressive possibilities. At other times he fosters a more percussive approach -tapping, twanging and sharp. koto-like plucking -in response to the moment's demands. Overall his playing is distinguished by an astonishing stream of sustained invention in which he rarely resorts to repetition.
It would be a generalization to say that Phillips follows a western melodic sensibility while Yoshizawa possesses a more textural style, but it gives an impression of how matters pan out. Yoshizawa, in the right channel, plays a homemade electric vertical five-string bass, which allows him to enhance the physical sounds with electronic effects. Fortunately he uses the facility sensitively, creating eerie yelping arco cries, or synthesized echoes at the peak of his phrases, setting challenges for Phillips rather than overwhelming him.
Their dialogue often proceeds by way of contrasts, but not by rote. As an example Phillips adopts a skittering pizzicato as a rejoinder to Yoshizawa's panoramic bowed sweeps at 23' in the lengthy "Oh My!" and then later at 25' when both are wielding the bow, he pitches high against Yoshizawa's low. Such illustrations also reveal how both men switch between fingers and horsehair at will in their exploration of the extended techniques possible on the bass. Yoshizawa's simple electronic manipulations become more prevalent on the 20-minute "Those Boys!" leaving Phillips' imagination center stage as he essays pure drama against a backdrop of washes, rumbling and rattling.
Bass aficionados will surely get a strong hit from this deep dive into the soundworld of the bull fiddle.
Oh My!; Those Boys!
Barre Phillips: bass; Motoharu Yoshizawa: homemade electric vertical five-string bass.