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Monday, April 6, 2020

Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg Holm - No Time Left For Sadness (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2020) ****

By Sammy Stein

No Time Left For Sadness is the first release from Joe McPhee (tenor saxophone) and Fred Lonberg Holm (cello, electronics) where they are working as an improvising duo. It is challenging and quite charming in its own way. Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg-Holm have worked together before in combos including Survival Unit III, with drummer Michael Zerang, but the pair have never released a CD of duets. The recording was made in Lone Pine Studios in upstate New York where both players live. The intimacy of the recording makes for some close encounters of the intuitive kind and both Mc Phee and Lonberg- Holm demonstrate an uncanny understanding of each other's presence. There is an emotional intensity to the recording too.

There are just 3 tracks and the titles ' That Time, ' This Time' and 'Next Time' may be arbitrary but also might herald the dawning of an endearing and continuing collaboration.
'That Time ' sees the pair working together to produce sounds, explorations and diversions, whilst constantly re-imagining the landscapes they are creating. There is a sense of relaxed understanding here, each taking a chance to outshine and then support the other and the different manner in which the 'cello can contribute to music is explored fully. An uplifting track which veers across registers, explores the reedal tones as well as that of the strings as they are pulled taut, scraped, plucked and bowed in many different ways.

One might wonder why the 'cello does not feature more in improvised music. Joe Mcphee's solo section is sublime and the tenor sax parps and squawks the life out of itself, offset with sensuously bowed strings and it is a delight to hear the upper notes of the 'cello played with such control.
In the second track, 'This Time' the opportunity for further exploration is taken further with an opening section of pizzicato strings, tempered with saxual interruptions and perfectly placed riffs from McPhee. The music is expressive, emotive and switches mood with mercurial speed at times. There is also a gentle touch which pervades the entire track and is almost tangible. It adds colour and temper to the music. The folk-like ending is surprising and quite lovely.

In the third track ' Next Time' the CD culminates in a climax extemporary improvisation. Mc Phee and Lonberg-Holm provide multiple directions, creating landscapes which have few musical signposts, yet every direction leads to another deeper and exquisite revelation.

Although there is electronic additional material on the tracks, the combination of acoustic and electronic sounds works a treat because here the additional noises are worked in as part of the music - almost as a third instrument and it is only in the final track that they are more apparent.

There are several combinations working here - that of Joe McPhee and Fred Lonberg-Holm, that of 'cello and sax, of reed and string and that of the different tones - which come together in a surprising number of places, the notes of each instrument rising to meet before diverging again. There are patterns created which are then torn apart, melodies begun and then deciphered and coded once more. It is an album of intrigue, interest and constantly changing emphasis. Both musicians explore different balances, reacting to each other in different ways and pitches of sound. Bursts of energy one moment and gentle, take-down melodies the next yet also an awareness of each other. In 'Next Time' there is a wonderful section where the strings shriek under the pressure of the bow whilst the body of the 'cello provides deep, drum-like single notes.