Joe McPhee / Chris Corsano Under a Double Moon

[Roaratorio; 2011]

Styles: free improvisation, modern jazz, creative music
Others: Trio X, Two Bands and a Legend, The Hated Music Duo

Reedman and pocket-trumpeter Joe McPhee has done a rather significant amount of work in duos. That conversational give-and-take can create some of the most breathtaking and most natural improvised music, whether in dialogue between like, complementary, or oppositional instruments. For a saxophonist, perhaps the most likely encounter would be with a drummer-percussionist. That tradition, especially in freer settings, goes at least as far back as John Coltrane’s duets with drummer Rashied Ali in 1967, later issued by Impulse! as Interstellar Space. There is, after all, something essential about the nature of wind and drums that goes back to a ritual desire for communication and expression. That being said, there’s a diverse range of recordings and performances in this medium, from Evan Parker and Paul Lytton’s more electro-acoustic-inflected work to the full-force antics of Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, or the timbral entrees and sorties of Steve Lacy and Masahiko Togashi.

While he’s certainly one of the most revered reedmen of the last 30 years (and his discography goes back longer than that), only a handful of Joe McPhee’s discs have been sax-drum duets;The Emancipation Proclamation with Hamid Drake (Okka, 2001) is one of the most notable, but those with Paul Hession, Paal Nilssen-Love, and John McLellan are equally valuable. Recorded in Paris in 2010, Under a Double Moon presents five duets between McPhee (on alto and soprano saxophones as well as trumpet) and drummer Chris Corsano. Corsano’s work has spread out across genres, though he’s probably figured into most free-music followers’ consciousness as part of the Hated Music duo with Connecticut-based saxophonist Paul Flaherty. This LP-only release is the fourth installment of McPhee recordings on Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records (all previous records have been solo), as well as Corsano’s second appearance on the label.

It’s a curious pairing because what we know about each musician would tend to spotlight their differences: McPhee a preacher of space who has studied and expanded upon the broad sonic path cut by Albert Ayler in the mid-60s, toward a hushed yet volcanic parallelism. A youthful and cracking energy is part of Corsano’s arsenal, and he’s a lean player if not one who’s particularly beholden to tradition. That economy fits McPhee well, though it’s of a different sort, based on playing only what’s necessary rather than having played what else is available and then discarding what doesn’t work. McPhee’s is an economy of age and experience, rather than a naturally stripped-down approach. Despite their differences, McPhee and Corsano are a genuinely engaged pair, feeding one another areas of almost inaudible sparseness as well as taut and direct athletics.

The second part of “Dark Matter,” which closes the first side, finds McPhee’s pocket trumpet flitting between languid, funereal phrases and more cutting chatter. Corsano is a bit reminiscent of a young Milford Graves here, his detailed cross-rhythms supported with a floor-shaking earthiness that ricochets off of short, brassy fragments. The improvisation closes with distant whistles and bent soprano harmonics that build into soft cascades against angular drum patter. The second side begins with “New Voices,” a stately and heartbreaking soprano melody outlined by hushed and crackling filigree. In a dedication to storied free altoist Giuseppi Logan, McPhee’s phrasing is given over to a dogged cry, but one that is keenly controlled in logical explosions shaped by Corsano’s toms. The closing “In Lieu of Flowers” returns to an oddly bright, dirge-like melody, colors pooling and emboldened by a dry fracas.

Although not a session for the ages, the McPhee-Corsano duo presents a strong rapport between two master improvisers. Sometimes the mark of a successful collaboration is that it that can grow, and Under a Double Moon certainly presents the groundwork for future exploration.

Links: Joe McPhee / Chris Corsano - Roaratorio

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