I do not usually boast about my CD collection, but I have over 50 CDs with Joe McPhee as a leader, and with reason. When I tell other jazz fans that I think he's one of the true jazz greats of all times, I often get a frown in reaction. The reason why I think that, is because his music is universal and authentic, in a deep emotional and spiritual sense, open to any influence while still remaining uncompromising in its exploratory nature. He brings a purity of approach while combining sensitivity and warmth, with powerful violent outbursts and musical adventure. And he can play with many different kind of musicians and still build rapport.
This record is his fourth sax/drums duet, after "Emancipation Proclamation" with Hamid Drake, "A Parallax View" with Paul Hession and "Voices : Ten Improvisations" with John Heward. Now, with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, the result of the dialogue is at the same high level. The 34 year old drummer is not in the least inhibited by playing with the 68 year old saxophonist, and to McPhee's credit, he lets the young drummer have the same level of space as he did on the duet with Hamid Drake. There is great respect and mutual encouragement, as already testified by the first track, on which McPhee blows a very mournful slow tune, which incites Nilssen-Love to accentuate with little cymbal sounds, or the opposite, double the tempo for some high energy playing without creating a conflict. The second track starts with high energy drumming, inviting McPhee for improvising with the same intensity, and he does that by playing highly rhythmic bursts of sounds circling around the same tonal center, meeting the drums halfway, almost letting go of the sax as a lyrical instrument. On "Ibsen's Ghost", McPhee switches to pocket trumpet, first riding the intense percussive waves that the drummer creates, then slowing down to bird-like (or is it ghost-like?) fluttering, while Nilssen-Love switches to brushes in reaction. "Acts Of Time" brings the most controlled demonstration of the saxophonist's incredible skill, blowing high sustained overtone sounds, barely touching upon the silence at first, then increasing the intensity for some heart-piercing wailing, supported by thundering drumming. And the treat goes on and on. It must also be noted that the quality of the recording is excellent too, creating a very intimate feeling, as if both artists were playing next to you. Free, creative, open and disciplined : I love it.
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