Back in 2001 when reedman Michael Marcus' trio waxed a disc under the title Blue Reality (Soulnote, 2002), he could scarcely have imagined the circumstances under which he might resurrect the name. As the four masked faces on the cover of Blue Reality Quartet! show, times are sadly very different. Joining Marcus in the studio in November 2020 are and drummer Jay Rosen from the original date, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee and percussionist Warren Smith. A plethora of connections informs the line up, not least the joint tenure of Rosen and McPhee in Trio X, which maybe explains the easygoing vibe which permeates the set.
Although credits for the seven tracks are spread across the band, the pieces could equally be extemporized, so loose and responsive are they, with simple but attractive folk melodies and vamps. It's a common language in which each speaker possesses decades of experience. In line with the moniker, the foursome tends to the wistful, with McPhee in particular often evoking African-American spirituals. That's especially the case on the opening "Love Exists Everywhere," where his tenor intertwines in a warm embrace with Marcus' bass flute, over Smith's vibes and Rosen's laidback shuffle, and likewise on the languidly keening incantations of "Bluer Than Blue" as McPhee testifies on alto clarinet while Marcus' tenor supplies the chorus.
Elsewhere by contrast, "Coney Island Funk" has a jaunty feel courtesy of Marcus' lyrical bass clarinet and McPhee's sunny countermelody, which continues even as Marcus stretches out with the occasional squawk. They construct "Joe's Train" around a punchy riff, doubled by twin tenors, as both Smith and Rosen mesh in a tumbling rhythm. There's usually a recognizable pulse, even on "East Side Dilemma," the longest and most wayward cut, as Smith ticks on the hi-hat while Rosen embellishes and McPhee exclaims earthily. The album ends with the poignant "Warren's Theme," which offers an exploratory mood tinged with hope, before settling for an unbowed sadness, which perhaps sums up the situation we find ourselves in.
Love Exists Everywhere; Chartreuse Tulips; Joe's Train; Coney Island Funk; Bluer Than Blue; East Side Dilemma; Warren's Theme.
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