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Barre Phillips: End to End (ECM)

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

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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