In Finland
Cadence CJR 1186

Next To You
émouvance émv 1023

By Ken Waxman

Recorded five months apart in 2004, these sessions confirm one again the apparently endless adaptability of multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. NEXT TO YOU is the first time the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. native has recorded with his French quartet after 12 years of its existence. IN FINLAND on the other hand is a classic one-off festival gig in Raahe, where pianist Matthew Shipp joins the long-established duo of McPhee and bassist Dominic Duval. Both have something unique to offer.

McPhee, playing soprano and alto saxophone plus pocket trumpet, is joined by bassist Claude Tchamitchian, known for his nuanced work with pianist Sophia Domancich; guitarist Raymond Boni, who works in duo with McPhee; and alto and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro, one of France’s leading reed experimenter. In a Montpellier studio, the quartet in various combinations plays nine pieces ranging in length from less than 90 seconds to almost eight minutes. Earlier in the year, the three Americans in Finland improvised on three long tracks of almost 33, almost 25½ and almost 15 minutes each.

Central player on the first CD is Boni. Heightening and lessening the harmonic tension with slurred fingering, flanged, rubato asides and droning amp effects, his harsh vibrations give added heft to the improvisations. Radiating from this hub are ground bass rhythmic licks from Tchamitchian, curving and reverberating alto saxophones vibrations and tongue slaps from one or both horn players, plus splattering bellows from Lazro’s baritone.

Geysers of murky low-pitched multiphonics are often worked into the mix by Lazro, which contrast nicely with McPhee’s triple tonguing on saxophone or circular grace notes on muted pocket trumpet. Boni also outputs resonating chromatic chording plus high-pitched, nail-scraping timbres, while the bassist moves from solid slap style to supplely manipulating his axe’s extremities.

Not surprisingly, innovation is the buzz word of the date. On “Straight Knife”, for instance, McPhee yodels timbres through his mouthpiece – perhaps sans reed – as if he was playing the Aboriginal didjeridoo. This splayed vibration picks up even more resonance as Boni clanks chromatic single notes behind him, Tchamitchian walks stolidly and Lazro adds further reed shading. Eventually the baritone meets McPhee’s horn for a session of surging call-and-response.

“Other Warriors” finds the bassist’s sul ponticello strokes and the guitarist’s rasgueado forming a backdrop for inspired overblowing by both hornmen. Before the technical extensions are superseded by a cataract of twisted and abrasive tones, the two play in double counterpoint. Lazro highlights pitch-sliding squeaks and swirls, while McPhee moves into Don Ayler territory with tongue-shredding vibrations.

None of McPhee’s trumpet work is that unconventional on IN FINLAND. For as far-flung as the three explorers set their long improvisations, each ricochet back to earth. The first tune features McPhee’s muted trumpet interpolation of “My Funny Valentine”, the next references “Blue Monk” in his soprano saxophone playing and the last features Shipp’s weighty voicing on “Summertime”.

Not that any of the main themes are contrafacts of those familiar songs. On the contrary, the CD is a controlled experiment with Shipp finding a place for his piano among the concentrated interaction that characterizes the Duval-McPhee partnership. You can see this as early as “Never Before”. As soon as McPhee enters playing unforced soprano saxophones lines, the bassist immediately harmonizes with the reedist. When the saxman’s line augments to hovering tongue-stopping obbligatos, Shipp turns to kinetic high-frequency cadences, first accompanied by the bassist, then superseded as Duval reverberates a flamenco-like solo of his own. The pianist’s insistence on pummeling cascades of chords is what causes McPhee – on pocket trumpet – to buzz out an almost abstract line then play that variant of “My Funny Valentine”. Its appearance confirms Shipp’s quickness as his response offers guitar-like arpeggios that contrast with the familiar melody. Deconstructing the tune at a quicker tempo, McPhee – now on saxophone – climaxes the performance with a nasal version of the head, soothing Duval’s sul tasto slashes and Shipp’s hard and high-frequency dynamics with repeated grace notes.

“Never Again”, the nearly 25½-minute second piece, finds McPhee swapping hummingbird-light trumpet emphasis for grainy split tones on the soprano, in response to Duval’s tenacious recreation of the “Blue Monk” melody half way through the piece. Cross layering both the main theme and its variations, and abetted by Shipp’s Monk-like stride piano interpolations, McPhee recaps the head for a proper finale. Beside him, Shipp flashily splinters dynamic chords, while Duval selflessly holds down the rhythm.

Memorable as first-time collaboration, the CD points out avenues the three can explore in the future. Meanwhile NEXT TO YOU confirms the American multi-instrumentalists simpatico interaction with his Gallic associates.

Track Listing: Next: 1. Folie Dure 2. The Last Border 3. Next To You 4. Shorty 5 One More Step 6. Other Warriors 7. Softitude 8. Straight Knife 9. Le Règne du Calamar Géant

Personnel: Next: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, alto and soprano saxophones); Daunik Lazro (alto and baritone saxophones); Raymond Boni (guitar); Claude Tchamitchian (bass)

Track Listing: In Finland: 1. Never Before 2. Never Again 3. In Finland

Personnel: In Finland: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and alto and soprano saxophones); Matthew Shipp (piano); Dominic Duval (bass)