Fonda/McPhee/White/Karetnick: Heat Suite (2004)
Heat Suite, a four-part, freely improvised performance, is a towering achievement. It is music that is constantly flowing, constantly growing. It is full of flux and variety, and every note, every rhythm evolves organically and logically from what has previously been created.
"Part 1" begins with Fonda's scraping arco bass, which becomes the platform for White's alto. Soon enough, White and Karetnick engage in a duet, an unmetered meeting in which a fast pulse is suggested but not stated. There are other segments in Heat Suite that are free or rubato, but there's also time, funky time, Afro-time, and swinging time. There's a segment early in "Part 3" where Fonda struts a second line beat, Karetnick plays a complex but jumping counterpoint on brushes, and McPhee's trumpet intones a poignant song. "Part 4" opens with throbbing mallet rhythms underpinning White's stately alto. And much of "Part 2" has rip-roaring tenor work by White and McPhee, soloing and jointly improvising, over a barrelling, very fast 4/4 swing tempo.
All four musicians play with invention and passion, often displaying lyricism, even restraint. Joe McPhee is, quite simply, magnificent. The booklet says he plays pocket trumpet, but his sound is so full and rounded, so warm that it's easy to think he's playing a full-sized instrument. McPhee is a master of extended techniques on all his instruments, but he is also a master of beauty. So many of his improvisations could be songs. White, too, sounds very good. He listens well and his driving tenor solo on "Part 2" is especially powerful.
Fonda and Karetnick play with astonishing unity. They suggest a wild variety of approaches from rubato to marcato to swing, and always seem to think as one. Their solo work is consistently outstanding. If you care at all about the cutting edge of jazz, or free music generally, you'll want to check out Heat Suite. And if you have open ears, you'll find this one very much worth your while.
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Track Listing: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Personnel: Joe Fonda, bass, flute, voice, percussion; Joe McPhee, pocket trumpet, tenor sax, soprano sax; Cliff White, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax; Ben Karetnick, drums, percussion.