Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee

Human Encore
Clean Feed CF 269 CD

The idea of someone able to reference both baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan’s Cool Jazz meetings with altoist Lee Konitz and the parameters of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary quartet with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry may appear far-fetched. But that doesn’t count on the chameleon-like talents of American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee.

Not that McPhee in any way imitates either of these storied ensembles, but when he uses either his pocket trumpet or tenor saxophone to twin with Swede Martin Küchen’s baritone or alto saxophones the perceptions are striking. The most open of improvisers, McPhee, like Küchen, and like the other members of the Trespass Trio: bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Raymond Strid is fully committed to so-called Free Jazz. But like Anthony Braxton, he has a wide appreciation for earlier concepts as well.

That means when he propels a haunting melody from the mid-register of his saxophone that wraps around the jaded pumps from Küchen’s low-pitched horn on “In Our Midst”, echoes of Mulligan-Konitz are suggested. This is especially true when it seems that Küchen’s thematic base may be “Cherokee” with a Spanish tinge. Alternately a piece such as “A Different Koko”, a group improvisation, featuring contrapuntal affiliation between McPhee on pocket trumpet and Küchen on alto that in galloping enthusiasm and animated passion could be an out-take from one of Coleman’s Atlantic LPs. Strid could be channeling Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell, while the stentorian pumps and filigree reaches that produce maximized expression for Zanussi on this bass showcase are unimaginable without the liberation of the bull fiddle showcased by Charlie Haden in Coleman’s groups.

It should be stressed that this notable live date of spontaneous expression isn’t some deliberate backwards look at the past though. The sonic echoes arise without warning and organically as the foursome works through eight tracks, with throbbing textures as often wispy and welcoming as abrasive and honking. Küchen is the most uncompromising in his improvisations, more committed to reed torque and spit tones than McPhee, who admittedly followed that route for a longer period. To raise the excitement quotient, the American can reach altissimo screams on tenor, the better to combine with drum rolls or the Swede’s double-tongued action. But on sax, and especially on trumpet, it’s McPhee who injects a rare delicacy into some of the improvisations with rubato puffs showcases the passion of improv along with its pugnaciousness.

Four-way interaction at its zenith, McPhee’s presence may make Human Encore one of the Trespass Trio’s most profound discs, and certainly yet another of his catalogue of outstanding CDS.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. A Desert On Fire, A Forest 2. Bruder Beda Ist Nicht Mehr 3. Xe 4. Coimbra, Mon Amour 5. A Different Koko 6. In Our Midst 7. Human Encore 8. A Desert On Fire, A Forest (A First Day Take)

Personnel: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone); Martin Küchen (alto and baritone saxophones); Per Zanussi (bass) and Raymond Strid (drums)