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Barre Phillips/György Kurtág jr. - Face à Face (ECM)

18 August 2022

The man who recorded the first solo bass record in 1968, Barre Phillips brought that portion of his long career to a close with 2018’s End to End. But he didn’t hang up his axe for good. Face à Face unites him with Hungarian electronicist György Kurtág jr., son of the eponymous composer, for a series of improvised duets. The temperature runs from ghostly to gregarious, depending on the mood of whoever kicks off each track. “Chosen Spindle” turns on ethereal synth washes and Phillips’ undulating thrums, while “Algobench” starts with electronic clatter and communicates pure nerves. “Sharpen Your Eyes” swirls with digital percussion throbs and bass string squeaks like a flock of confused swallows, but Phillips’ grinding arco bass fills up the air on “Two By Two,” with Kurtág barely shimmering in the background. At first “Stand Alone” sounds like it’ll live up to its title, with the spotlight squarely on the bass, but Kurtag adds enough noises that seem like you’re hearing them just inside your range of hearing that its status as a duet is assured. With its loose relationship to structure and untraditional compositional spontaneity, Face à Face isn’t the kind of record you can listen to all the time. But when you do need this kind of experience, nothing else will do.