I don’t really know anything about Barre Phillips, except that he played in Archie Shepp’s band on the Coltrane/Shepp “New Thing at Newport” record; similarly I don’t know a terrible amount about Dave Holland except that I quite like his bass playing with Miles Davis, and that he was the first proper jazz musician I saw live, in a slightly straight-ahead big-group setting (Prime Directive style) at Warwick Arts Centre (Coventry) in 2001-ish.
In fact, I’ve always had Holland as quite a straight ahead kind of guy, which was why I was intrigued to see him recording in this quite Free set-up of improvising double double-bass… This was recorded February 1971 (for ECM records), which seems to put it right at the point of Holland’s departure from Miles’ band (last recorded thing with him being “At Filmore” from June 1970, according to the PGTJOCD). (In fact, looking through the history books: spending the seventies recording with Anthony Braxton and recording solo albums for ECM probably isn’t the most fulfilling definition of “straight ahead” I’ve come across… Oh, and I forgot I also have “Conference of the Birds”, which is pretty cool, and pretty free.)
The first time I picked this up and gave it a spin, I really couldn’t get into it; it sounded pretty poor, actually, just a load of messing around where the ideas didn’t quite come together; a bit too loose. But I’ve been playing it over and over the last few weeks and I’m really starting to dig it…
The first two tracks are entitled “Improvised Piece I” and “Improvised Piece II”; the rest are Beans, Raindrops, May be I can sing it for you, Just a whisper and Song for Clare… To what extent the first pieces are improvised and the latter (named) pieces are not, I have no idea… The sparse ECM liner notes give no real clues (not even to say who is playing on which channel, grrr)… I think I prefer the latter, shorter pieces; it’s when they try and stretch out on the “Improvised…” pieces that they miss, a little bit… I prefer it when they’re just making rhythmic noises. On track 5, for example (May be I can sing it for you) they end up with one person playing quite a pretty melody, and the other sticking to a “traditional” plucked bass backing; this doesn’t really work, it just being bass + more bass. The tight little percusive grooves on Just a Whisper and Raidrops work much better, I think.