The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Barre Phillips, Joëlle Léandre (double bass)
Composer: Various

An album of free improv double bass duets is never going to be for the faint-hearted. Tuneful this ain’t (well, for the most part), but Barre Phillips and Joëlle Léandre are past masters in this genre and have recorded a session that ekes every ounce of variety from the instrument.

From the thrumming, unfettered rattling of the opening to the distortions and rasping harmonics that pepper the album, this is almost unswervingly intense music, bolstered by an audio mix that captures the nuances of even the darkest corner of each instrument. But both players know full well how to mix up texture and tone, so that, for instance, the tragicomic warmth of Elbow Rising refreshes the ear after the percussive scuttling that precedes it. And although the booklet notes claim that the performance ‘goes beyond conventional definitions of musical form and manner’, there is a convincing sense of proportion to the ebbs and flows within each piece, a willingness to temper the creativity with moments of stasis that allow breath to be drawn.

While this recording is unlikely to convert many non-believers to the ways of free improvisation, insiders should enjoy it, as should any double-bassists looking to get more out of their instrument.

Chris Elcombe