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Voluminous Venture by Masashi Harada & Barre Phillips

The nine pieces of music on this CD can't be described as tunes. To call them songs seems somehow incorrect as well. Compositions? Yes, in the sense they are the products of two actively working musical intellects, that fits a little better. But the point is that these duets are complete improvisations, sweeping vistas of sound disconnected from repeating thematic materials.

Music this completely free is a daring proposition, and it is fortunate that Masashi Harada and Barre Phillips have the talent and dedication to pull it off. The American expatriate Phillips is the better known of the two, having appeared on dozens of records in his forty year career alongside innovators such as Archie Shepp, Paul Bley and Peter Brotzman. Masashi Harada has studied with John Cage and toured as a percussionist with Cecil Taylor. His playing displays the influence of both, particularly the latter. (he is a talented visual artist as well, and his ice paintings alone are worth the visit to his website)

Phillips effectively varies his bass technique. He plucks, bows, and occasionally beats the strings, other times he appears to be playing the body of the bass rather instead, building resonances. At times his lines stand out, at other moments he seems to lock into the piano almost to the melting point.

Harada's piano almost begs comparison to Taylor's; his lines come in waves and swells, and his idiom is so deconstructed that you wonder at times where the jazz is. But, like Taylor, when you take a closer listen you realize that the jazz is right there in front of you. (that said, you don't get the feeling that he's completely digested and is building on Monk, Ellington, et al that you get when you listen to Cecil Taylor) Cage's influence (and perhaps that of Cage's teache Henry Cowell) is heard in Harada's use of space and occasional recourse to unconventional piano techniques.

This music flows in and out, starting and stopping rather than telegraphically beginning and ending. One problem with this approach is that it is rather taxing to the listener. The constant intensity of this music, coupled with the absence of hooks or recurring themes over the sixty-six minutes of this CD is just too demanding to process in one sitting. Taken in small doses this music is really powerful though, and worthy of repeated, incremental listening to appreciate all of its nuances.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Masashi Harada & Barre Phillips
  • CD Title: Voluminous Venture
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Cadence Jazz Records
  • Musicians: Masashi Harada (piano, vocals, percussion), Barre Phillips (bass)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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