September 26, 2012
Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips
Jazz Werkstatt JW 125
Everybody Else But Me
Foghorn Records FOG CD 015
Now 78, bassist Barre Phillips is one of those Americans who transferred the investigational skills he intuited playing with the likes of reedists Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre to Europe in the late 1960s. Like most Jazzmen, he was looking for steady work, but since that time he has helped create a distinctive European improv aesthetic. Based in southern France for the past 40 years, Phillips has worked with nearly every major European musical innovator from saxophonist Evan Parker to fellow bassist Joëlle Léandre.
The polyglot line-up of these releases demonstrates Phillips’ on-going creativity while interacting with musicians of different backgrounds. Although both CDs feature a saxophonist and pianist along with Phillips, each is rewarding in its own fashion. Closer to a regular Free Jazz session, Everybody Else But Me benefits from the powerful presence of Oxford-based polymath reedist Tony Bevan, who is equally proficient on soprano, tenor and bass saxophones. Pianist is Matthew Bourne, some 40 years Phillips’ junior; a Yorkshire-based keyboardist who has played with everyone from guitarist Franck Vigroux to percussionist
Andrea Centazzo. Drumming duties are handled by Aussie-in-Berlin Tony Buck, best-known for his membership in The Necks. Free Music rather than Free Jazz, Montreuil is a live Paris-recorded session featuring the bassist’s long-standing cooperative trio with two Swiss musicians: saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and pianist Jacques Demierre. Both men have long experience playing notated and other musics, and also work together in the band 6.
Buck’s polyrhythmic strategy is also what differentiates the quartet session from the trio CD. But almost from the first, when Phillip’s stentorian thumps join internal string strums from the pianist and down-turning tonguing from Bevan, it’s clear that this is no disc for the faint-hearted or fastidious. By the second track, “The Harrison Ford Chord”, intensity is apparent as Bevan’s soprano sax playing takes on lyricon-like qualities, with the resulting trills meeting up with buzzing double bass strokes while Buck rattles bells and other little instruments and Bourne advances low-frequency cushioning tones. Eventually as the pianist’s high-pitched key glisses and clips harden, the saxophonist immerses himself in circular-breathed, nearly endless timbral variations which narrow the exposition without constricting it, make split-second reference to other tunes, and finally restate the theme.
Using his bass sax, Bevan builds “The Tailor’s Pike” out of contrasting dynamics, as his buzzing glissandi soon divide into shaking and irregularly vibrated tongue slurs, while the other players stay in a moderato groove, defined by the bassist’s string rubs and the pianist’s intervallic, low-frequency cadenzas. Managing to stay true to his original experimental impulse Bevan wraps up with scads of tart-tongued multiphonics. Elsewhere though, in a sudden volte-face, his balladic delicacy, in tandem with Bourne’s comping brings to mind Gerry Mulligan’s work with Jimmy Rowles. Furthermore, despite its faux Film Noir title, “Farewell My Lovelies” is more of the same, with Bevan, now on tenor saxophone, appending folk-ballad references to diaphragm-pushed glissandi he’s outputting at three times the tempo of the others, while Bourne contributes tremolo runs and Buck jittery brush work.
By and large though, the almost 14½ minute title track may be the disc’s most defining moment. With each player given space to sonically expand, the exposition includes non-confrontational and clean cymbal and snare pushes from Buck; moderated harmonies from Bourne and first scrubbed, than plucked, double bass lines from Phillips. Lining up with the bassist’s thumping rhythm, Bevan spews out some Gene Ammons-like slurs, which fit the narrative perfectly, despite the more romantic concept the other three are advancing. More frenetic in its final section “Everybody Else But Me” wraps up with the bassist’s spiccato angling, the pianist’s tremolo runs plus harder smacks on the cymbals and snares, while Bevan’s rough and agitated altissimo split tones turn to frenzied reed bites and squealing obbligatos.
Even more proficient in freneticism than Bevan, Leimgruber’s improvisations on Montreuil four selections are in the main more contained and compliant. It may be that the absence of a drummer discourages excess, but it’s also that this trio isn’t aiming for unbridled Energy Music.
For instance the saxophonist’s entrance on “Further Nearness” is all upper-register, soprano saxophone squeaks and trills, the better to blend with the bassist’s’ bottleneck guitar-like arpeggios and sweeping staccato lines from the pianist. Only when Demierre turns to double-gaited pumps, soundboard echoes and wound, internal string plucking do harder snorts and reed bites come from Leimgruber. Moving to his horn’s upper register, Leimgruber’s aviary ghost notes brush against swaying and strumming double-bass lines. A conclusive variant finds the saxman displaying altissimo squeaks, reed sucking, nasal vibrations and half-swallowed timbres, the better to join with Demierre’s rubs and scrapes on the piano strings plus Phillips’ staccato sawing.
Leimgruber is more outgoing in his tenor playing, although he has been known to mute his bell against his trouser leg. Stuttering reed bites and a stuttering squeals spread out to a sour vibrato during “Northrope”, while the pianist caresses the keys with both hands while producing pedal point glissandi. For his part the bassist is involved with higher-pitched, spiccato textures plus rapping on the wood, which as the narrative extends, hardens to define the rhythm. A descriptive contrapuntal sequence finds the saxophonist turning to shriller, more atonal squeals, delineating his sounds from those of Demierre, whose stentorian chording becomes denser and thickens to such an extent that he’s soon hitting the keys with jackhammer intensity.
It’s a credit to the three that following the cramped cascades that characterize the former track, they can also showcase isolated timbres on “Mantrappe”. Leimgruber’s soprano line judders with kaval-like cross-blown patterns, Demierre’s sequence encompasses string plucks and stops, while Phillips’ sul ponticello bass line quivers. Building up to a contrapuntal collection of wood smacks from both bassist and pianist, the narrative is helped along by guttural tenor saxophone groans. A cacophonous middle section of reed glossolalia, bass string pumps and keyboard clips wedges more sonic timbres into the lines that could be imagined, gradually gives was to a withdrawing finale where the bassist`s buzzing ostinato underlines Leimgruber’s puffing spetrofluctuation and Demierre’s intermittent key clips.
As he heads into his seventh decade as a professional musician, Phillips can look back on contributions to many memorable sessions. These two, almost completely dissimilar exercises in advanced improvising show, that with the right partners, his high-calibre music-making continues unabated.
Track Listing: Everybody: 1. A Prolegomena 2. The Harrison Ford Chord 3. The Tailor’s Pike 4. Empty Hall Blues 5. It Never Entered 6. Everybody Else But Me 7. Farewell My Lovelies
Personnel: Everybody: Tony Bevan (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones); Matthew Bourne (piano); Barre Phillips (bass) and Tony Buck (drums)
Track Listing: Montreuil: 1. Further Nearness 2. Northrope 3. Welchfingar 4. Mantrappe
Personnel: Montreuil: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones); Jacques Demierre (piano) and Barre Phillips (bass)