Joe McPhee: The Sugar Hill Suite & Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Trio-X is one of the longest-standing and strongest vehicles for one of the best free-thinking saxophonists around today. Joe McPhee has countless associations, but consistently is at his most relaxed and exploratory with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen. With only five releases in the decade they've played together, the group has afforded itself the time to grow and find a common sound.

The Sugar Hill Suite

There's plenty of payoff in The Sugar Hill Suite, an oddly plaintive dedication to the spirit of Harlem. Far from the jazz-renaissance throwback that might be expected, it is luxuriously languid. At times, the pace picks up slightly as on Duke Ellington's "Drop Me Off in Harlem and McPhee's "Monk's Waltz , but more often the picture they paint of the historic New York neighborhood lands between contentment and sorrow. It's as hard to miss the point of the inclusion of the standard "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child as with the traditional "Goin' Home . The album isn't specifically Harlem on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning, but resonates with years of both pride and hardship.

Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2

Duval invited McPhee to join him for his second Rules of Engagement meeting, after releasing a duet with Mark Whitecage as Volume 1 last year. Even outside of Trio-X, Duval has often been McPhee's bassist of choice and 1999's duo set The Dream Book remains one of the best in each of their discographies. As on Sugar Hill, there's nothing hurried about the session. They play so sweetly that a brief "Amazing Grace is an apex without cliché. Despite his long association with McPhee and a tenure with Cecil Taylor, his work as a leader has been rare (the C.T. String Quartet being a notable exception). The Rules of Engagement series might afford him the chance to step into that role.

The Sugar Hill Suite

Tracks: For Agusta Savage, Triple Play (For Jillian, Grace, & Dominic), Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Drop Me Off in Harlem, The Sugar Hill Suite (For Samuel Rosen), Little Sunflower, Monk's Waltz, Goin' Home


Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Dominic Duval (bass), Jay Rosen (drums)

Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2


Joe McPhee Monologue, Amazing Grace, While My Lady Sleeps, Coming Forth


Dominic Duval (bass), Joe McPhee (trumpet, soprano sax)

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