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Improvised soundtracks in motion pictures have a venerable tradition. Perhaps the best known among them remains trumpeter Miles Davis' Ascenceur Pour L'Echafaut (Fontana, 1958). Film director Jorge Rubiera, who had made a documentary on the intrepid drummer Abbey Rader, approached him for a score for his project "Phenobarbital." Rader together with longtime collaborator saxophonist John McMinn spontaneously created music for Rubiera. The resulting Phenobarbital Sessions is as unique and as dramatic as the artistic visions of all involved.
The sixteen tracks on the album reflect the various moods of the tense story of Rubiera's work. McMinn's contemplative reflective piano marks the haunting "Pecan Trees" that concludes with a dissonant and percussive duet with Rader. While "Argument" features Rader's thunderous drums and McMinn's fiery saxophone overlapping passionate phrases.
Drawing inspiration from the movie's dramatic action the two musicians create delightful tension. The hallucinatory "Asleep at the Wheel" contrast superbly with Rader's brief rolling solo on "Wandering." The mournful and solemn "Out of Breath" complements the energetic and otherworldly "Evening News." The latter opens with McMinn manipulating the strings of the piano only to transition into playing angular and vaguely bluesy chords on the keys.
Rader brings a strong spirituality to the recording such as on "Tipp's Notebook" with his Eastern themed percussion. McMinn follows suit with his expectant and somber piano phrases. Together they create a sublime piece. This is not the sole moment where their strong camaraderie is on display. The complex "Puzzle" has McMinn's warm and wailing alto flowing with agility over the dense and intricate rhythmic patterns that Rader's beats lay out for the melody.
There seem to be no limit to Rader's innovative spirit. Phenobarbital Sessions is another successful example of his collaborative and boldly original output. Together with like-minded McMinn, Rader has constructed a musical answer to Rubiera's singular cinema.
Track Listing: Envelope; Puzzle; Accident; Pecan Trees; Argument; Asleep at the Wheel; Wandering;
Confrontation; Socked in the Jaw; Out of Breath; Evening News; Strangulation;
Return; Premeditated; Tippi's Notebook; Payphone.