Flow Trio with Joe McPhee

Winter Garden
ESP Disk 5040

Télémaque

The King’s Hall Concert

New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings NEWJAiM5

Should there be a scintilla of doubt the American horn player Joe McPhee can find a place for himself within any free music situation, you’d be hard pressed to find such instances in his voluminous recorded work over the past almost 60 years. Take these recent ad-hoc sessions for example. Playing tenor saxophone on Winter Garden, he guests with the established Flow Trio of New York for seven rough-and-ready Free Jazz explorations. The others are Louie Belogenis on tenor and soprano saxophones, drummer Charles Downs and Joe Morris plying bass instead of his usual guitar. Part of a festival appearance 15 months previously in Newcastle upon Tyne, McPhee adds his tenor saxophone and trumpet to create the Télémaque trio with two UK players, bassist John Pope, who is in many bands and drummer Paul Hession who often plays with Mick Beck.

Over the course of two extended improvisations on the latter there’s never the feeling of visitor/locals or star and back-up duo. Hession and Pope get as much space as McPhee and are as responsible for setting musical parameters. In fact the vigorous introductions to both “Part I” and “Part II” of the energetic improvisations come respectively from Hession’s cymbal scratches mated with Pope’s string thumps and latterly fist pounding against the bass wood leading to dark allegro string plucks. Hession’s harsh ruffs and rolls then project the rhythm on “Part I” as McPhee initially smears some Donald Ayler-like trumpet rips into the exposition and follows that with saxophone split tones that swiftly climb from affecting renal slurps all the way up to altissimo cries. Defaulting to reed bites the saxophonist adds irregular shrilling to the bassist’s string stretching pops and the drummer’s clatter and cymbal clips. Half way towards the conclusion the paradigm further intensifies as McPhee’s saxophone undulations work through almost every tone extension with glossolalia and shouting through the horn’s body tube. Instructively the final sequence is almost spiritual as the saxophonist’s tune variations lightened and are responded to with hard smacks from the drummer and stentorian bass bowing.

Quality is at the same high standard on Winter Garden, but probably as benefits a working trio, there are bass solos on nearly every track. Besides that the constant boom-boom-boom from Morris’ strings animates each selection. Suggesting Trane and Pharoah Sanders or maybe Brötzmann and Breuker duets, when both play tenor saxophone, Belogenis and McPhee vigorously snort and snarl out every dual saxophone set up imaginable. Chasing each other like feral cats staring with “Rabble-Rouser” (sic), they sway in double counterpoint racing up to dog-whistle shrilling and down to basement scoops. Staccato honks, growls and other variations are heard, with separation audible in those passages when one saxophonist smears and tongue stops while the other repeats the head for consistency. Belogenis’ turn to soprano on tracks such as “Incandescence” and the concluding title track allows him to slide more shrill textures into the mix and set up more division from McPhee. On “Incandescence” the two continue to be like two serpents entwined on a short staff in Roman iconography, setting up an aural dance of squeaks and slides. On “Winter Garden” strident cries add increased emotionalism to the interactive snarls and doits which eventually descend to melodious harmonies seconded by bass string stretches. Downs’ contribution isn’t ignored, though not as upfront as reeds retching variations or those times when double bass stops and power plucks set up the narratives. With strategies that range from gentle tick-tocks to formal pumps, repeated whumps and snapping ruffs, the drummer keeps the pieces ambulatory as well as atonal. This is particularly effective at the climax of “Harbinger” and is also a harbinger of how the subsequent tracks can maintain their chromatic bearings.

At 81 Joe McPhee continues to turn out masterful discs. Choice between these is whether you prefer him as the only horn or trading licks with another saxophonist.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: King’s: 1. St. Elmo's Fire: Part I 2. St. Elmo's Fire: Part II

Personnel: King’s: Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone and trumpet); John Pope (bass) and Paul Hession (drums)

Track Listing: Winter: 1. Rabble-Rouser 2. Recombinant 3. Harbinger 4. Incandescence 5. Glistening 6. Accretion 7. Winter Garden

Personnel: Winter: Louie Belogenis (tenor and soprano saxophones); Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone); Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums)