Mountainscapes (2023 Remaster) Barre Phillips

Album info



Label: ECM Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Free Jazz

Artist: Barre Phillips

Album including Album cover

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  • 1Mountainscape 105:53
  • 2Mountainscape 202:43
  • 3Mountainscape 304:21
  • 4Mountainscape 404:25
  • 5Mountainscape 504:50
  • 6Mountainscape 604:33
  • 7Mountainscape 703:21
  • 8Mountainscape 807:12
  • Total Runtime37:18

Info for Mountainscapes (2023 Remaster)

Barre Phillips’s Mountainscapes brings together strongly contrasting elements, the furious high-energy playing of the Surman/Phillips/Martin trio juxtaposed with spacious impressionistic pieces originally created for Carolyn Carlson’s ballet dancers. The integration of acoustic instruments and electronics (with three of the musicians playing synthesizers) is beautifully balanced in the production. John Abercrombie dropped by the studio to jam on the last track, raising the energy level still higher. Recorded in March 1976, Mountainscapes was described by Melody Maker as “vast, awesome and glorious” and “a starting point for the shape of jazz to come.”

In his classic case study of Melanesian cargo cults, Mambu, anthropologist Kenelm Burridge introduced the concept of the myth-dream, which he reduces to “a series of themes, propositions, and problems which are to be found in myths, in dreams, in the half-lights of conversation, and in the emotional responses to a variety of actions, and questions asked.” According to Burridge, what makes any such cult successful is the immediacy with which its figurehead is able to articulate the myth-dream, unleashing a barely conscious longing to know and resolve that which lurks in our mental shadows. The resulting destabilization is a shared process of salvation. I dare to claim the music of Barre Phillips as providing that same function. It embodies a psychological imperative to bring into focus that which inhabits the half-light of our awareness, and fulfills that need through sound. The only difference is that, here, there is neither the promise of salvation nor of migration, but rather the simple need to soak in the immediate essence of wherever one may stand.

Mountainscapes is divided into eight parts of spirit-tugging magnificence, products of a mind that, though only cursorily represented on ECM, has done us a great service in recording his sounds for posterity. Mountainscape I hovers at the margins before unleashing a crackling free groove. The beautifully synthesized sounds and enthralling bass playing, not to mention an absolutely captivating soprano solo from reedman extraordinaire John Surman, give us a rich taste of resolution. It is an unexpected transition, one that jolts the heart into awareness every time. II is a quieter follow-up, enigmatic, peripheral. Like the myth-dream, it lingers just beyond our reach, baiting our desire to know it in full. III is an exquisite piece enhanced by organ and electronics. In IV, the bass becomes a huge rope hefted and swung like a mast cord in a seasoned shipmate’s hands before a saxophonic wind illuminates its sails. The drums never quite stand upright, crossing their feet instead in a continual swagger. V fades in with a synthesized arpeggio. Some sinuous bass notes and a stellar saxophone peek out from the woodwork here. The bass thrums like a groaning in the earth. Meanwhile, a synthesizer bubbles to the surface before fading into transfiguration. VI begins with a lavish wash of electronics embroidered by Phillips’s harmonic threads. It’s a short track, but for me the most effective on the album. VII begins with more pulchritudinous arpeggiation. The sax trails along, trying to place its footsteps in the same imprints as the bass trails not to far behind: the trio as mise-en-abyme. An electric guitar surprises us in the final part, wound by an enthralling sax to feverish heights and playing us out in a gentle finale.

In the end, this is music to be experienced rather than described. And so, I will stop trying.

Barre Phillips, bass
John Surman, soprano saxophone. baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, synthesizer
Dieter Feichtner, synthesizer
Stu Martin, drums, synthesizer
ohn Abercrombie, guitar (track 8)

Recorded March 1976 at Studio Bauer in Ludwigsburg, Germany
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Digitally remastered by Christoph Stickel

Barre Phillips
who was born in 1934 in California but has lived in the south of France since the early 1970s, has been at the forefront of successive revolutions in improvised music. He initially followed an academic career to the age of 25, until one day, as he puts it, he “just flipped” and decided that he would pursue his passion for music “come hell or high water”.

Ornette Coleman set him on his jazz path around 1960 and he was soon working the extremes of the “New Thing”, playing improvised chamber music with Jimmy Guiffre and freely expressive “fire music” with Archie Shepp. In London in the late 1960s he played with John Stevens’ history-making Spontaneous Music Ensemble and with the South African musicians around Chris McGregor. He then co-founded the powerhouse group The Trio with John Surman and Stu Martin, which appeared on Mountainscapes. Phillips’ first recording for ECM, however, was the 1971 duo album Music for Two Basses with Dave Holland, the first duo for basses issued on any label (“a fine record by two masters of the instrument”, BBC).

After further recordings for the label with Surman, and with Terje Rypdal, and the solo bass album, Call Me When You Get There, Phillips experimented with music for bass, percussion and tape on Aquarium Rain and mediated between Evan Parker and Paul Bley on Time Will Tell and Sankt Gerold, the latter a live album, taped at the Austrian mountain monastery. John Fordham, writing about this album in the Guardian, praised Phillips for “on the one hand swirling, smoky bowed textures and on the other great tension between his precision of pitch and buzzing-bee abstractions”. The bassist also collaborated with Joe and Mat Maneri on two ECM discs, Tales of Rohnlief and Angles of Repose, the second of which was recorded at the ancient chapel of Sainte Philomène, which adjoins Phillips’s home in Puget-Ville.

“I play everything based on what my ear suggests I play, with no objective editing. And my ear is fed by a pool of accumulated musical experiences stored in my memory, mental memory and muscle memory. My active role is to do the best I can to play on my instrument what my ear is suggesting.”

This album contains no booklet.

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