Barre Phillips & György Kurtág Jr.: Face À Face

The lineup of bass, electronics and percussion might seem limited but the conversational style yields an array of sound, texture and dynamics


It may seem odd to describe the discography of Barre Phillips (b. 1934) as one of ECM’s best kept secrets, but despite copious critical acclaim his music still doesn’t seem to enjoy the public recognition that it deserves. His solo bass recitals alone are sufficient to cement his reputation as one of the great virtuosi, and as this intriguing set amply demonstrates Phillips is an astute and generous collaborator too.

György Kurtág Jr. is of course the son of the great Hungarian composer. Active in electronic music since the 1970s, he worked with Eötvös and Kagel at IRCAM during the 1980s and is now based in Bordeaux at SCRIME, where he is the coordinator of art and science. His partnership with Phillips dates back to 2014, but this is their first recording.

If Face À Face is short in duration – none of the tracks exceed four and a half minutes – it is certainly not lacking in impact. If the palette of double bass, live electronics and digital percussion sounds restricted, the duo’s highly conversational music in fact embraces a kaleidoscopic array of sounds, textures and performance dynamics.

None of the pieces are thematically linked, but for the most part they adhere to clear architectural lines. Beyond is dark and brooding, while The Underzone sets Phillips’s spare bass against a cool cyber-drone that recalls Roland Kayn. Chosen Spindle and Ruptured Air have a chamber-like formality, the striking Stand Alone finds Phillips’s majestic bass shrouded in a shimmering electronic halo, and fans of his fauvist improv will delight at the scratchy arco and bird-like chatter of Across The Aisle and Sharpen Your Eyes.

Complementary and distinct from Phillips’s earlier electro-acoustic landmarks, Mountainscapes (1978)and Aquarian Rain (1982), Face À Face is a triumph of ingenuity and imagination.

Beyond; The Underzone; Two By Two; Across The Aisle; Algobench; Chosen Spindle; Extended Circumstances; Bunch; Sharpen Your Eyes; Ruptured Air; Stand Alone; Forest Shouts (33.45)
Phillips (b); Kurtág Jr. (elec). Studios La Buissonne, France, September 2020 to September 2021.
ECM Records 3899642