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Monday, April 22, 2019

DKV Trio & Joe McPhee ‎– The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019) ****½

By Stef

If you like dancing to free jazz, I can recommend this album. If you don't like dancing to free jazz, I still recommend you buy it. It's the kind of object every free jazz lover should have. Not because the music is ground-breaking by itself, not because you've never heard these guys play music before, but only because it's such a great testimony to their combined skills and because every single second of it is enjoyable. All in a little black box.

There is a lot of music, six full CDs, with almost six hours of improvised live performances by Ken Vandermark on sax, Joe McPhee on sax and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums, or the DKV Trio with Joe McPhee.

Each CD brings us one show, spread over concert halls in Europe and the United States (see list below), and the title is aptly chosen: you get the same level of energy and 'fire' for each performance. It swings, it sings and it dances, creating the wonderful combination of Vandermark's rhythmic improvisations and McPhee's more soulful sound, adding colour and dimension to the trio's known albums. While on some albums with a two front men playing sax, you can wonder and guess who is actually playing, it is quite easy to identify which sax is Vandermark and which one is McPhee.

All the music is improvised, often around some of the typical sax vamps by Vandermark, highly rhythmic and uptempo, the ideal power engine for Kessler and Drake to show their skills, and as said, you get a lot of ear candy. Hamid Drake is definitely one of the most 'lyrical' drummers around, with the skills to embellish rhythms in a way that's difficult to describe, adding flourishes and complexities seemingly without effort.

At times, McPhee gets the lead role, and his approach is slower, soulful, bluesy,  playing improvisations on his own "Nation Time" (from Nation Time, 1971), "Circumstantial Evidence" (from Dream Defenders, 2013), "Old Eyes" (from "Old Eyes, 1980), "Knox" (from Tenor, 1977), but also taking on standards such as "Summertime", "Ol' Man River" or Ellington's "Come Sunday". Like with Trio X, McPhee brings these tunes with the emotional and spiritual depth to the high level that you can expect from him, and they function as the perfect balance for the high energy playing that makes the bulk of the improvisations. Sadness and joy are equally represented.

The fun part is that this is really a performance by equals, all fully comfortable in the performances they create, fully comfortable with each other's skills, and having sufficiently performed together in the past in various ensembles and line-ups, also fully comfortable with how the other three musicians will interact and drive the sound forward. Both Kessler and Drake get their solo spaces once in a while, never too long, and mostly quite compelling, and very often one or two musicians take a step back and for solo or duo performances, mostly during the quiet and sensitive moments, yet these are usually interludes or launching platforms for all four have a go at it, full of joy about the music itself, making it sing and dance and jubilate.

And then Vandermark and McPhee take turns in making this an amazing experience. Even with their distinct voices, McPhee can be violent in his solos and Vandermark sensitive. They easily change roles, as they do with instruments, with McPhee switching to pocket trumpet, and Vandermark to his clarinets, adding variety in the long improvisations. Yet they are really at their best on tenor, both of them, working the tone and timbre of their instrument to maximum effect and expressivity.

Other tunes include the circular theme of Don Cherry's 'Brown Rice', which - as usual - turns into a rhythmic improvisation of the other shows.

Listening to all CDs in a row is a little bit much, and because many of the improvisations - regardless of their location - are built around similar themes and structures, it may become a little repetitive and confusing, yet that's only a minor comment because the quality of all performances, including the sound quality of the recording itself, are excellent throughout. We would already cheer for a single album with this music, and we now get six of them. That by itself makes it something to take in house.

The music is dedicated to James Baldwin, the American author, to whom Joe McPhee wrote poetry in the accompanying booklet.

The total experience is rich, balanced, and relatively compact despite the amount of music you get. And because these are all live performances, you get very enthusiastic crowds at time, adding to the fun.

Not to be missed!

The performances recorded:

CD ONE : Instants Chavirés, Paris, France on November 13, 2017.  
CD TWO : Klub Dragon, Poznan, Poland on November 15, 2017.  
CD THREE : Divadlo 29, Pardubice, Czech Republic on November 16, 2017.  
CD FOUR : The Sugar Maple, Milwaukee, USA on December 27, 2017.  
CD FIVE : Elastic Arts, Chicago, USA on December 28, 2017.  
CD SIX : Elastic Arts, Chicago, USA on December 29, 2017.  

Watch a show in Krakow, Poland, in 2017


Captain Hate said...

DKV has been my favorite long term Vandermark group. Their box sets always sound fresh and occasional projects, like adding Joe McPhee or 2/3 of The Thing plus Pupillo, are almost always intriguing (the ones with Fred Anderson and AALY just didn't work for me for whatever reason).