The thing about free jazz is that it is very much like abstract expressionist painting. Many an inexperienced museum goer will spot a Jackson Pollock and say to herself, "I coulda done that." Actually, you couldn't. Same thing with free jazz. From a distance, it's all hubbub and din, but try your hand at it, and you're just creating babel. In the hands of masters like the Flow Trio and their guest Joe McPhee, that cacophony becomes a beautiful thing, like that Pollock painting, discharging its energy.
Winter Garden is the trio's fourth release and second on ESP-Disk following Rejuvenation (2009). Inviting McPhee disturbs none of the trio's flow because the saxophonist might be the most sensitive and responsive avant-gardist in music today. Matched with the tenor and soprano saxophone of Louis Belogenis, the disc opens with "Rabble-Rouser," a high energy palate cleanser. The two trade energy as if coming into the final corner of an exhaustive race. With the pulse of Charles Downs (fka Rashid Bakr) and Joe Morris on acoustic bass, the energy never lags. Morris, who is better known for his guitar work, has accrued fans for his double bass playing. Maybe the bass requires him to ease his ofttimes frenetic guitar pace, which allows the listener to follow his thoughts. Here, whether he approaches his instrument via pizzicato and bow, as he does on the title track, the effect is engrossing.
McPhee and Belogenis have, by the finale, knitted their horns together into a sympathetic understanding. The success here is the journey from the rabble to that understanding. You guessed it. It does not take long. The saxophonists lay out a two horn pattern in "Recombinant" that is picked up by Morris and Downs and explored to conclusion. Elsewhere the horns dance a drunken master gambol in "Harbinger" followed by effective vocalizations. The beauty here is whatever gesture any of the four players advance, their partners are ready to respond.