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Joe McPhee & Evan Parker: Sweet Nothings For Milford Graves


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Joe McPhee & Evan Parker: Sweet Nothings For Milford Graves
Two soprano saxophones loosely harmonize. They finish each other's lines, languidly intertwine, pause for air at the same moment. And simultaneously end on a dime. Musical twins. In the wrong hands such empathy might become soporific; but with two of the planet's foremost improvisers on hand in the persons of Evan Parker and Joe McPhee, instead they unlock deep wells of emotionally charged feeling.

Captured at Chicago's 7th Empty Bottle Festival in 2003, this archive recording amply merits release. It is not the pair's first encounter. The couple had met before, as documented onChicago Tenor Duets (Okka, 1999) and would again after, as evidenced by What If They Both Could Fly (2015, Rune Grammophon) as well as reacquainting many times in other larger groups.

But there is something special about a duet. One of the bonds that unites them is their split second reactions, enabling a dialogue of almost instant recalibration, instantaneously deciding whether to follow, oppose or fall silent. Another is their shared call on repeated phrases as building blocks. As such they can be surprisingly hard to differentiate when playing the same instrument as in that opener. But characteristically it is McPhee who tends to be the one extemporizing melodies, whole-heartedly embellished by Parker, though with a slightly more acerbic twist.

Of course Parker is at his most distinctive when delving into his patented circular breathed multiphonics bag, as his waves of spiraling warbles give the illusion of two or more particularly in-synch participants. Indeed it is not clear that Parker is solely responsible for the brow-wrinkling tangle on "Sweet Nothing 3," right up until the point when McPhee joins on pocket trumpet. While both are capable of extreme abstraction, they rein in their wilder leanings on the seven cuts here, deploying them sparingly but to good effect, as when Parker's split toned cry offsets the until then spiritual vibe of "Sweet Nothing 4," acting as a palate cleanser before a left field swerve.

But there are no digressions on the closing "Sweet Nothing 7." Here they go for the jugular. McPhee's aching melody draws a tender embrace from Parker, resulting in a swelling refrain which provides a beautifully judged full stop to a profoundly personal conversation, one we are now privileged to share.

Track Listing

Sweet Nothing 1; Sweet Nothing 2; Sweet Nothing 3; Sweet Nothing 4; Sweet Nothing 5; Sweet Nothing 6; Sweet Nothing 7.


Evan Parker: saxophone; Joe McPhee: woodwinds.

Additional Instrumentation

Joe McPhee: pocket trumpet, tenor, soprano saxophones; Evan Parker: tenor, soprano saxophones.

Album information

Title: Sweet Nothings For Milford Graves | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Corbett Vs. Dempsey

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