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Michael Bisio / Raymond Boni / Dominic Duval / Joe McPhee: Port of Saints

Lyn Horton By

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The unvarnished truth about improvised music is that it takes us where we never expect to go. Port of Saints describes an epic journey whose main character is the saxophone. A guitar acts as the saxophone's alter ego. Two basses supply avuncular guide posts for traveling to an unknowable but certain destination. The journey is rife both with fantasy and human spirit.

Raymond Boni evokes an extra-terrestrial ambiance through his uniquely overt and detailed approach to the electric guitar. Repeatedly, his guitar rings, tingles and twinkles. He predominates the beginning with careful figures which later stretch into expansive, convoluted phrases. The two bassists, Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval, weave through this mysterious territory, keeping the guitar in tow, sometimes rhythmically. For the most part, the basses maintain an abstract plane replete with heavy bowing, sets of high pitch scrapes, elegant penetrating vibratos, snapping pizzicatos and quiet ornament. The guitar and the basses sometimes bond by duplicating ostinatos.

The tenor saxophone portrays a peculiar part in this journey. McPhee plays his horn as if he were questioning his own existence. A blast of plaintive wail cuts through the fluidity of the strings almost halfway through the first piece. Extending his instrument's reverberation, Boni buoys the sax so that it will stay afloat. Eventually, the sax calms. The sound is less reedy and less tempestuous. But McPhee continues to climb through thickets of high-pitched phrases. After a brief silence, he returns, marching with a full range of pitches that shift with vibratos. We are hearing the climactic transformation of the sax from a state of agitated yearning to one of settling in pure and certain tone.

A sax-less denouement follows: all bass and guitar moving up and down the scale, cooling down after the discord and revelation. But the sax penetrates the soundscape again with arpeggios. It proceeds with bravura, merges with a mimicking guitar line, and exits renewed and sensible.

In the second track, the instruments move quickly and coincidentally. The distance for them to travel is less than in the first piece. The terrain is less complicated and earthly. The saxophone is electrified but yields to the strings. The guitar brings the piece home in three swift plucks.

Joe McPhee created the cover for Port of Saints, with a painting of what could be a galaxy. A portion of this galactic pie is cut out to leave the color black in its place. For some, this blackness may denote that something is missing—but nothing is missing here. That black section symbolizes Port of Saints, a vast arena for re-establishing the connection between humanity and a universe of musical expression.


Track Listing: Port of Saints; The Snake, The Fish (And Things).

Personnel: Michael Bisio: bass; Raymond Boni: electric guitar; Dominic Duval: bass; Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone.

Title: Port of Saints | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: CJR


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