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Bill McHenry: Bloom & Narrow Margin

Martin Longley By

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Ben Monder/Bill McHenry

Bloom

Sunnyside Records

2010


Andrew Green

Narrow Margin

Microphonic

2009


Brooklyn tenor man Bill McHenry can teeter on the lip of sonic extremity, but he's also well-versed in the art of post-Coleman Hawkins full-bodied-ness. These albums reveal him in two remarkably contrasting modes. McHenry's Bloom duo disc with guitarist Ben Monder is completely dedicated to mood and emotional expression, developing at an exceedingly unhurried pace. Not so much a solid step as a bodiless spirit-float. Monder is a core member of McHenry's quartet, but now the pair find themselves cast adrift from a rhythm section.

The title cut immediately establishes a sense of foreboding, the somber uncurling of a deathly petal. Monder can't escape the reverberational legacy of Bill Frisell, his preferred act being to emit suspended tones while McHenry grows bittersweet, savoring his own rich tone. They bleed together into "Ice Fields," McHenry thistly, the pair agreeing on a key climactic point where they connect with a mournful wailing.

The album has an authentic live-in-the-room acoustic, moving into a central cluster of pieces that swim towards becalmed waters, reducing to minimal gestures as a pregnant aura is gently formed. "Food Chain" has a cyclic pileup that recalls Pat Metheny playing Steve Reich (on "Electric Counterpoint"), as McHenry ebbs and flows in sympathy with Monder's patterns.

How's this for a title? "The Shimmering Now That Breathes You." It's perfectly appropriate for the music's eternal glissando nature, until McHenry makes a shocking entry to close, sounding just like a motherless seal pup.

Guitarist Andrew Green's Narrow Margin features McHenry standing proud in a completely different light. Green leads a barreling ensemble that also includes trumpeter Russ Johnson and trombonist JC Sanford in the frontline. The leader is mostly responsible for the tunes, all of which lurk dangerously in a noir alley. Most of them operate at the car chase level, packed with boldly hacking themes that are intricately entangled yet lusty. Surely Green has named the disc after Richard Fleischer's 1952 movie of dark doings?

The power potential of McHenry's horn is captured here with more recording veracity, the microphone surely lodged deep inside his flesh wound. Urgent vitality and velocity pervade. Green updates the '50s to now, the music always suggesting post-midnight activities, bustling and sleek, possessing an assured glide. The guitarist is at his caustic best soloing on "Short Cut," with McHenry ripping out to follow. The tenor man delivers repeatedly, always empowered by a grimy conviction.

Tracks and Personnel



Bloom

Tracks: Bloom; Ice Fields; Chiggers; The Shadow Casts Its Object; Winter; Heliogabalus; Food Chain; Crocodiles; Poppies; The Shimmering Now That Breathes You.

Personnel: Ben Monder: guitar; Bill McHenry: tenor sax.



Narrow Margin

Tracks: 45 Auto; Midnight Novelette; Miro; Narrow Margin/Taxi Driver; Totally Joe; Short Cut; Black Roses; Honeymoon in Ipswich.

Personnel: Andrew Green: guitar; Bill McHenry: tenor saxophone; Russ Johnson: trumpet; JC Sanford: trombone; John Hebert: bass; Mark Ferber: drums; Benny Cha Cha: Wurlitzer piano (4).

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