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Barre Phillips: End to End (ECM)

Review of the bassist's latest—and possibly final—album

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Cover of Barre Phillips album End to End
Cover of Barre Phillips album End to End

First, the bad news: In the candid liner notes accompanying his latest (and, apparently, final) solo album, Barre Phillips tells writer Steve Lake that this release represents “the end of a cycle—not a summing up, but the last pages of a journal that began 50 years ago.” And the good news? The renowned 84-year-old double bassist, composer, and improviser brings this career chapter to a compelling close.

Best known for his acclaimed collaborations with a roster of ECM artists—Dave Holland, John Surman, Terje Rypdal, et al.—Phillips has also distinguished himself in a series of influential solo recordings over the past half-century. The remarkable skill set he displayed early on continues to serve him well, as evidenced throughout the three textured “movements” that comprise End to End. It’s all here: the deeply resonant tone; the stirring arco flights; the signature use of space, intervallic skips, and harmonic overtones; the juxtaposition of skittish sprints and elegantly tapered resolutions; the steady flow of appealing motifs and evocative touches—ominous minor seconds, anyone? Add to that some vibrantly percussive interludes that will likely delight fans of slap-bass funk, and the introduction of alternately serene and forbidding soundscapes. While the mix of composed and improvised pieces was sequenced post-session, the three groupings cohere, offering vivid contrasts and common threads. In the end, left to his own gifts and devices, Barre once again leaves us wanting more. Here’s hoping.

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