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Joe McPhee / Jamie Saft / Joe Morris / Charles Downs: Ticonderoga

John Sharpe By

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As the liners explain, this date was inspired by bassist Joe Morris and pianist Jamie Saft's shared love for the seminal John Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard Again (Impulse, 1966) album. In the subsequent discussion with the other participants, it transpired that reedman Joe McPhee actually witnessed that gig from the center of the front row. The outcome is a sequence of collective inventions very much in the same barnstorming spirit.

But the result is not an explicit homage. Although McPhee's breathy tenor saxophone brings Coltrane to mind at the outset of pieces like "Beyond Days" and "Simplicity of Man," he quickly broadens his reference points. Heavier on the fire than the honey, his overblown freeform tenor saxophone work proves particularly incendiary evoking Albert Ayler's lineage. On soprano he is sweeter and more circuitous, especially at the start of "Leaves of Certain," where his ruminations diverge into a brief vocalized cry, before the ensuing rollercoaster ride.

Saft concentrates solely on piano, focusing on texture more than narrative with streams of cascading notes which chime with his affection for the playing of Alice Coltrane. He also works the strings and the innards of his instrument, sometimes simultaneously with the keyboard. Morris generates a blizzard of notes to enable multidimensional movement, yet also saws insistently to impart drive and raise the stakes even further.

But it is drummer Charles Downs who wields the most influence over the character of the session with his irrepressible fast paced chatter. In fact Downs continues well after everyone finishes on three of the four cuts, as if he still hasn't been able to say everything he wished. It makes a noticeable impact in terms of intensity and transparency when he does adopt a different tack, as in the middle section of the ballad-like "A Backward King" which thereby takes on a jazzy feel, before inevitably increasing in density and speed.

Track Listing: Beyond Days; Simplicity of Man; Leaves of Certain; A Backward King.

Personnel: Joe McPhee: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jamie Saft: piano; Joe Morris: bass; Charles Downs: drums.

Title: Ticonderoga | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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