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Joe McPhee: Intimate Conversations

Lyn Horton By

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Intimacy permeates many kinds of relationships. It is rare that in one context, several can be examined simultaneously. But the language of music coupled with the poetry of viewpoint can cover descriptive territory without too much hardship to demonstrate that intimacy requires depth of connection and can stretch the parameters for gaining insight and paying attention.

On Intimate Conversations a trio of musicians, convened by saxophonist Joe McPhee in a Krakow, Poland studio in 2006, have seized twelve opportunities to illuminate how intimate conversations work. The three use music as their muse to translate into a stream of sounds, moments that pose questions.

The titles of the pieces direct the listener to focus on a range of considerations from the insecurity between couples to the universality of God. The syntactical gestures that signify the subject matter dwell in the music from the outset. It is crucial to the listening, however, as written in the liner notes in no uncertain terms, to discern how clearly one musician communicates to another.

McPhee uses his tenor to create textures of confusion and wonder, embarking on sonic searches for answers which arrive only in stark, inconclusive resolutions. These ends become bridges to other deeper inquiries. He pushes his instrument to extremes within pitch register as well as within lines that speak dissonance and tunefulness, thinness and thickness, harshness and gentleness, furor and compassion.



How McPhee moves and stresses the chords, how quickly he exercises his fingers on the valves in trills, tremolos, or simple tapping determines how either drummer Jay Rosen or woodwind multi-instrumentalist Mikolaj Trzaska responds, especially on "Intimate Conversations #1-3," where all three musicians play together. On "Intimate Conversations #3 and "Snowflakes on Flowers, McPhee's breathtaking, pervasive pulsations provide a basis for a vast array of commentary from Rosen and Trzaska.

Trzaska's sound is distinctive because he plays a variety of horns, adding fire and light to the mix when heard in contrast to the low tones of the tenor on "Dom's Matrix." On other tracks he lays a diversified ground on which McPhee can build and the two can come together eventually, in both a narrow call-and-response mode as well as contrapuntally—except for "And Then, the two are seldom in sync.

Rosen's display of responsiveness is unquestionably accurate. He reflects the overt tensions and subtle demeanor of the tenor. He drops behind the horns, expanding every detail the reedmen utter. He paints a continuous cyclorama in front of which the sonorities can perform and explodes with force when the time beckons. But, his tour-de-force is "North Star," a tribute to Max Roach. It is tight, thorough, fast-paced and inhabits the same non-resonant zones in which the late drummer Roach spent a lifetime.

The questions raised on this recording have no specific decipherable answers. The response, instead, becomes generic... Where do I go? What do I do? How do I make the world a better place? Attend to the heart.


Track Listing: Was It Something I Said?; Maybe Not; I Would If I Could; Did God Forget Darfur/What God?; An Intimate Conversation #1; An Intimate Conversation #2; North Star (for Max Roach); An Intimate Conversation #3; Dom's Matrix; Snowflakes On Flowers; And Then; King to King's Bishop 3.

Personnel: Joe McPhee: tenor sax; Mikolaj Trzaska: bass clarinet, alto sax, C-melody sax; Jay Rosen: drums.

Title: Intimate Conversations | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Not Two Records


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