Face à Face
Barre Phillips; György Kurtág Jr.
ECM New Series ECM 2736 (ecmrecords.com)
More of a realized experiment than a full-fledged program, the dozen brief tracks here mark veteran American bassist Barre Phillips’ first accommodation with the electronics produced by Hungarian keyboardist György Kurtág Jr. Using three stand-alone synthesizers and digital percussion, Kurtág burbles, drones and vibrates ever-evolving oscillations with textures ranging from the daunting to the delicate.
All the while the bassist, whose improvisational experience goes back to the early 1960s, crafts parallel constructs that involve every part of his instrument during tracks that are timed from 90 seconds to nearly four and a half minutes. Phillips uses techniques such as col legno string bounces or pressurized sul ponticello bow slices to cut through the often-confined density from the machine-generated programming. Occasionally, as on Sharpen Your Eyes and Ruptured Air, more melodic suggestions are introduced with woody slaps from the bass meeting recorder-like peeps from the synthesizer on the former, and low-pitched string twangs evolving alongside high-pitched synthesized wriggles on the album describing the second title.
Overall, since Phillips can also finesse textures among other motifs encompassing measured violin-like runs and banjo-like clangs, the expanding programmed pressure never becomes oppressive. Genuinely fascinating, at points the disc also clarifies how acoustic and electronic timbres can unfold face à face with each prominent in its own space.