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An air of mysticism looms over Undersound II. The briefly cryptic liner notes from bassist Dominic Duval point toward the philosophy of drummer John Heward and the significance of & quot;th" in words that express the phases of "a journey in time," such as "birth" and & quot;death."
The compositions during this hour of suspenseful and exciting improvised music are numbered rather than titled, and the band uses their instruments to articulate what the written word can only suggest. There are passages of aggression and volume, but the overwhelming quality is quietude, as Duval seemingly plays one string after another, softly and deliberately, and Heward taps lightly behind. In other contexts, Joe McPhee is a forthright and dominant force on trumpet and saxophone, but on Undersound II, his tenor rarely rises above the level of speech and his soprano frequently reduces the dialogue to a whisper. McPhee provides the lead instrument in the trio’s recreation of the sounds of the primordial, of prehistoric creatures crying and calling out to each other at the dawn of civilization. The musicians often fill their roles independently, avoiding interaction to maintain the every-organism-for-itself condition of a society coming into being. What interaction does take place usually comes in pairs, as if satisfying the need to combine efforts from time to time to defend against the chaos.
Special guest Malcolm Goldstein contributes violin to the shortest track on the disc, and the additional musician moves the story forward as the world the trio has conjured grows more tense and complex. Finally, the last section brings the group and the listener into more familiar territory as McPhee blows long melodious lines on tenor over Duval’s rhythmic timekeeping before the two are joined by Heward’s drumming for a beautiful summary ballad. "Undersound" is the tone of our world below the surface and the superficial. In their attempt to take the listener back, through, and beyond time, Duval, Heward, and McPhee map a course worth following.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.