TOMAS PHILLIPS – Quartet For Instruments

Humming Conch

On paper, Quartet For Instruments is an interesting effort, conceived by Tomas Phillips by recording snippets of improvisations on piano, clarinet, minimal electronics and treated cello. In truth, it is at one and the same time sparsely austere and perplexing. There are in fact questions to be raised about the effectiveness of some of the choices, which – mostly depending on the listener’s personal predisposition – might even result simplistic. If you, like this writer, see for instance the initial juxtaposition of the separate sources as chance meetings of innocuous notes and circumstantial noises that don’t seem to weigh a lot – occasionally recalling the activities of children at play, or mere exercises for beginners – then dissatisfaction could grab hold of your persona in a few minutes. On the contrary, Cage-influenced lovers of large spaces amidst acoustic events will definitely find a degree of poetry in those airy vignettes.

For my own money, the really good things start when all the elements get organized in more meaningful sequences and semi-voluntary counterpoints. This rings especially true when a splendid sound, sort of a curly shard of arcoed string performing a low-to-high glissando, begins to appear and make its presence felt whenever that happens. The essence of that sample alone is enough to push the piece into an over-average zone, also thanks to the increasing number of genuinely intriguing parallelisms generated by Phillips’ sonic design in the record’s last two thirds. Ultimately, at the risk of sounding ill-mannered, I believe that a 20/25-minute EP featuring the best intuitions would have worked better. At 41 plus, I’d call it a nice but not truly engrossing release.

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