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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Joe McPhee & Clifton Hyde – Live at the Stone, NYC (March 27,2007) (Acitoxe Records, 2023)

By Don Phipps

This set of live duets (recorded in 2007 at the Stone – an experimental NYC music venue created by John Zorn) captures multi-instrumentalists Joe McPhee (here on alto sax and pocket trumpet) and Clifton Hyde (guitars and mandolin) navigating the contours of music in both intense and intimate ways. It follows on the heels of their excellent recording of a similar meeting a year earlier at the Roulette (“Joe McPhee & Clifton Hyde - New Forms, New Sounds - Music for Alain Kirili”).

Hyde again uses the guitar for percussive effects (those poor guitars!) and strums, picks, and fashions challenging replies to McPhee’s sax and trumpet phrases. For his part, McPhee gives listeners an assortment of stop and go runs and dances.

There are also surprises. Take “Centering Posts Amok,” which begins with Hyde’s march strums as McPhee orchestrates long legato notes that fill the space. There are sax blasts that flash and blind (“Losing the Ring”) atop Django Reinhardt-like guitar. And the somber reflections and energetic blasts posed by the music in “Gales of Winter” give voice to the space and eerie sounds of a snowy windy night.

McPhee’s technique remains flawless on both sax and trumpet. Given the totally different embouchure requirements required to play both instruments, he puts on quite a display of virtuosity. Take for example his ability to play the trumpet in an almost imperceptibly shushed manner. Or the way he creates musette-like tones from the alto sax. Or the sax overtones and circular breathing he elicits on “The Players Are Ready.” And even though his music is spontaneous and improvised, it is also extremely disciplined. Hyde does not falter in reply. You can hear flamenco, tango and blues as well as a bit of Robert Fripp in his playing. There are even times when his guitar sounds like a koto.

The result? Music that ranges from peaceful to violent, smooth to discrete, quiet to howling and everything in between. On this album, these two expert musicians demonstrate that they can create soundscapes that both surprise and confront.