These discs are the musical equivalent of a snowball effect, where a germinal idea gains momentum and breadth to blossom into an unanticipated climactic event. Originally planned as a trio date for Whitecage, Kowald and Duval, under the expert production hand of Bob Rusch the core group quickly gained girth both in terms of attendant players and creative inspiration. What happens over the course of the two plus hours of music contained here is the most sublime form of musical alchemy- seven consummate improvisers, some well known, others less so, communicating and creating in the moment and in an environment of complete artistic freedom. Make no mistake, the results will floor you.
Virtually every conceivable combination of players is visited over these sixteen tracks. A total of eleven component coalitions are showcased and there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. Part 1 opens with “Estrus”, a call-to-arms by the complete sextet that resounds with chamber-like string sonorities and clarion horn locutions, a beautiful beginning and only the initial salvo. Next, Duval and Kowald engage in the first of three duets and craft a billowing conflux of bulbous bass lines. “Sterono” focuses on the taut reed helixes of McPhee and Whitecage with Kowald and Rosen delivering sensitive rhythmic support. Duval joins this group’s fold on the subsequent “Looking For Space,” a fifteen-minute focal point to Part 1 that boggles the imagination in the amount of synergistic energy that is harnessed and brought to bear. Whitcage solos first wringing out a labyrinthine statement on alto under a rushing rhythmic stream capped by pizzicato waves. McPhee follows with a throaty tenor spectacle that immolates in a tangle of deliciously overblown lines. After the horns have had their say the strings blaze forward in a dense harmonic discourse that prefaces the piece’s end. It’s companion “Making Space” is far more diffuse and never really gets going. The players seem as if they are cleansing their collective palette to make room for the music to come.
Whitecage pilots the instrument of the title on “Hello Alto” and works a light, lusty tone from his reed with Smoker’s punchy brass answering in enthusiastic agreement. “Bo Beep” is another feature for Kowald and Duval and the two root amongst a similar array of cavernous plucked string structures. For the epilogue on Part 1 the horn-trio of McPhee, Whitecage and Smoker convene with Prentice’s ethereal violin for a melancholic close that while signaling the terminus also points with anticipation to Part 2.
Part 2 opens with “Endorpher,” another Kowald/Duval duet, this time with the pair weaving a union of lines bows. “Fractals.5” reunites the complete sextet for a lengthy investigation of cyclically improvised themes. The circular attributes of much of the playing on this piece detract from its overall impact, but the individual voicings still manage to magnetize interest. Prentice and Smoker take a breather on “Finding Strength,” which is mainly a feature for Whitecage and McPhee. Both players shape a tandem of ascending spiral phrases while Duval and Kowald handle the terrestrial-bound matters of rhythm. “Zee Zoning” alights from the trio of McPhee, sticking to his quixotic soprano, Kowald and Rosen. Kowald’s rubs his strings with a polishing frenzy sounding as if he is trying to work any impurities from their surface. In contrast the short, but mellow “Joe’s Idea” weds Whitecage’s clarisax with the double bass underpinning of Duval and Kowald. Smoker’s flatulent mosquito brass and Rosen’s minimalist traps work court one another on “Standard,” which is anything but, and Whitecage, Duval and Rosen share the space on “Tex Ako.” “Wow Wow II” revisits the entire septet for a final hurrah. The improvisation starts out sluggish, but builds in both volume and dynamics. This first CIMPhonia recorded in 98’ has so far not been followed by a second. With what’s presented here the case is amply made for producer Bob Rusch to organize a return engagement.
Tracks: Part 1 : Estrus/ Good Clean Fun/ Sterono/ Looking For Space/ Making Space/ Hello Alto/ Bo Peep/ With No Song. Part 2 : Endorpher/ Fractals.5/ Finding Strength/ Zee Zoning/ Joe’s Idea/ Standard/ Tex Ako/ Wow Wow II.
Personnel: Joe McPhee- soprano & tenor saxophones, pocket trumpet, trumpet; Mark Whitecage- alto & soprano saxophones, clarinet, alto clarinet, clarisax; Paul Smoker- trumpet; David Prentice- violin; Dominic Duval- Hutchins bass, bass, thumb piano, osie drum; Peter Kowald- bass; Jay Rosen- drums.
Recorded: May 26 & 27, 1998, Rossie, NY.