A Pride of Lions

The Bridge Sessions 08
TBS 08

Rodrigo Amado/Joe McPhee/Kent Kessler/Chris Corsano

History of Nothing

Trost TR 170

Always up for a challenge American multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee is involved in classic two-horn face-off on these CDs. Recorded about 13 months apart, in different European cities, McPhee, playing tenor saxophone and pocket trumpet, is partnered in the front-line on The Bridge Sessions by French tenor and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro, who is as seasoned a Free Jazz veteran as the Yank. Of much younger vintage is Portuguese tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, who McPhee encounters on A History of Nothing. Using soprano saxophone and pocket trumpet on that date, McPhee and Amado, are backed by an expected rhythm section of Americans Kent Kessler on bass and Chris Corsano on drums. However The Bridge backing features Americans Chad Taylor playing drums and mbira, Joshua Abrams’ bass and guembri plus Guillaume Séguron from France on double bass.

Churning spiccato lines from the top on The Bridge, the dual bassists join with Taylor’s sophisticated rhythm bending to create a throbbing backing for the horn players. Lazro takes majestical advantage of this, producing knife-sharp tones that soon move into the altissimo range. In contrast McPhee sticks to smears and growls, building up to brief tonal bursts, with the note suggestions subsequently picked up on and elaborated on by the bassists. This continuous performance goes through periods of timbre and lines deconstruction with smeary output from Lazro and McPhee turning to emotional cries that can be traced to the tenor/trumpet honking-flutter tonguing duets of Donald and Albert Ayler.

Introducing distinctive reverberating and resonating broken tones from mbira and guembri as well as some unselfconscious yells, emotive stakes are soon raised even higher Very quickly the saxophones come out with dazzling glossalaia with the horns’ smears and screams referencing primitivist speaking-in-tongues as much as New Thing tonal expression. As the horns reaches a mewling, almost fine-spun sequence of riff-trading during the final minutes of the concluding “Track 05”, near non-Western timbre finesse from the strings and percussion push the solid and lively reed smears from both saxophones to an inevitable finale. Earlier on, staccato drum rolls and cymbal slaps plus Arco bass sprawls had coincidentally set up a FreeBop-like assault from Lazro and McPhee, that in its penultimate moments use bright brassy but conclusive notes from McPhee’s pocket trumpet and tongue flutters from Lazro to presage the final sequence.,

More straightforward and restrained, History of Nothing offers a lot more than title indicates, as the three Americans and one Portuguese go through a well-paced five track program which has Amado’s tenor saxophone moving from breathy Ben Webster-like balladry to post-John Coltrane/note exploration while McPhee’s soprano and pocket trumpet take on varied musical identities. During the course of “Legacies” for instance his slippery and moderato brass timbre is Amado’s perfect foil, while on the title tune, his nasal intensity on soprano leads him and the saxophonist into a reed showcase of high-and-low pitched peeps, smears, flutters wriggle and splutters as the fused bass and drums textures prevent the tune from losing its moorings..

Whether it’s double-quick staccato sparkles or pressurized fluidity that propels the two or relaxed grace notes from their three horns that decorate the narratives, McPhee and Amado appear evenly matched in melodic conceptions and exploratory ideas. There are points where both seem to quoting from just-outside-of-memory songbook standards, and other points, such as on “Wild Flowers” where the eventual harmonic intertwining is only attained after McPhee has bubbled his pocket trumpet into hunting-horn like tones and been answered – or is it burlesqued – by Amado’s almost nursery-rhyme simplicity. Kessler’s most distinctive moment occurs on the final “The Hidden Dessert: where he plucks the top of his strings and bows low pitches simultaneously. Without being showy, both he and Corsano acquit themselves admirably throughout.

Phrases like “forces of nature” are thrown about too easily. But when it comes to Joe McPhee, who will be 79 in November, the trait is apt. Both these CDs are yet more volumes added to his already impressive and historical body of musical work.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bridge: 1. Track 01 2. Track 02 3. Track 03 4. Track 04 5. Track 05

Personnel: Bridge: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, tenor saxophone); Daunik Lazro (tenor, baritone saxophones); Joshua Abrams (bass, guembri); Guillaume Séguron (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums, mbira)

Track Listing: History: 1. Legacies 2. A History of Nothing 3. Theory of Mind II (for Joe) 4. Wild Flowers 5, The Hidden Desert

Personnel: History: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, soprano saxophone); Rodrigo Amado (tenor saxophone); Kent Kessler (bass) and Chris Corsano (drums)