Trumpeter Raphe Malik, who spent much of the '70s and '80s playing with free pianist Cecil Taylor's band, has been described as "an exuberant and rough-hewn player"; and the Taylor lineage would suggest a propensity toward the free-flying approach. But on Sympathy the sound can best be described as introspective or searching, and even—to these ears, which have delved deeply into free jazz—melodic and accessible.
The set is a trio effort, with Donald Robinson on the drums and the incomparable Joe McPhee on soprano saxophone and pocket trumpet. Without a bass in the mix, space becomes a major factor.
All the tunes are Malik-penned, though long intervals of solo improvisation reign. Anything I've come across this past year or two in which Joe McPhee is involved—his Visitation (Boxholder, 2003), violist Mat Maneri's Sustain (Thirsty Ear, 2002), or Trio X's Journey (CIMP, 2003)—can be challenging, and ultimately fullfilling. Sympathy proves itself more more approachable than those, but it is still a set that demands full attention. The initial listen leaves an impression of relative simplicity—two horns trading sinuous lines in front of a lose-limbed percussionist—but it proves itself unsuited to the "background music" category. Driving around in the car or cooking dinner with the CD on just leaves one with a nagging feeling of missing out on the fullness of the experience. The darkened room with the listener alone with the sounds reaps the full reward.
I called this sound introspective and searching. Stir in an ineffable mood of spirtuality to the mix, like going to church.