Wordsworth famously wrote in his introduction to 'Lyrical Ballads': 'poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.' There was plenty of 'spontaneous overflow' flying around on Tuesday evening last at the Cafe Oto, the first leg of Joe McPhee/Chris Corsano's two night residency and the end result was: instant poetry. Joined by master bassman Jon Edwards and Paul Dunmall on tenor saxophone, a fascinating gig unfolded – one of the best of the year in a year so far full of them. Tranquility a plenty here this morning... but the recollection scenario may be a trifle more complicated. A few days back and no notes taken, only the snapshots and aural fragments remain in this ageing bundle of synapses. And I am not the poet but the inadequate carrier, the origins and immediate results were on the night. But here we go:
Opening with the headliners, drummer/percussionist Corsano and McPhee on alto saxophone, starting quietly with discreet noises, taps and rattles, breathy ghost notes, they soon started to stretch out across the territory available. Which given the majestic pedigree of Joe McPhee and the younger Corsano's awesome technique is a wide, wide open space. McPhee is a master of multisonics on his instruments and Corsano uses an expanded kit and often electronics to buttress his rhythmic muse. Their explorations moved from small gestures - some on the brink of audibility, a fascinating move in this crowded room but it worked, forcing you to concentrate - to the wilder polyrhythmic shores of Corsano unleashed, with McPhee hard-blowing over the top. McPhee's experiments with sounds and granularities were balanced by a strong melodic anchoring throughout. A modal/folkish feel at times.
They were eventually joined by John Edwards and Paul Dunmall, the bass player starting in with clicky, fast finger-picked figures high up the neck, one hand plucking and fretting as the other chased it, before he went deeper into the range and locked in with the drums. Dunmall up, for a trio at first as Mcphee dropped back, tonight playing more fully, I thought, than the other week with Matthew Shipp, in the first set unleashing torrents of long lines, a big brawling warm-hearted sound. McPhee eventually joined them, going between his alto and his pocket trumpet, this last a high-scrabbling that ran in exhilarating tandem with Dunmall. Onwards, they veered between fire music and filigree: smaller, quieter interludes – a master exercise in dynamics over this long set, finishing on a fantastic duo section between saxophone and trumpet.
Second half. Dunmall more oblique in places, short abrupt phrases tossed rhythmically about - although he unleashed plenty of longer line linearity, there was a more jagged feel, spiced with some deep blats and honks out of the classic r and b playbook. A varied set again, with the musicians splitting into trios, duos and occasional solos. McPhee hauled out his soprano to add to alto and trumpet, giving a more powerful weaving with Dunmall's tenor – the pocket trumpet struggled a little throughout due to its relatively lighter sonority. Again – what was striking was the ability the band had to move between sonic abstraction and more 'jazz' pulse orientated improvisations. Solos all round, of course – Corsano brought the house down with his and Edwards was his formidable self, McPhee and Dunmall equally assured in their expositions, the older man pushing further outwards on his instruments than the tenor saxophonist yet always returning – as did Dunmall – to primal melody. What was fascinating was the expanded space created where movement freely crossed the usual barriers – it was not 'jazz' with added sonics unsteadily grafted on or the reverse but a music in the moment that moved fluidly between these vaguely signposted areas and beyond. Several times throughout I suddenly realised that one section, say a duo between drummer and bassist which had been digging deep into expanded technical sonic gestures, bowed cymbals, frottaged bass, for example, had suddenly edged back in to the whole band rocking at full blast – with no perceived 'join' or Zornian jumpcut - rather a natural movement of mutual authority and widened vocabularies.
If a word summed up the evening, it would be 'generosity.' McPhee shared his sets equably and amicably, giving each performer plenty of opportunity to strut their considerable stuff while displaying the generous range of his own talents. A pure master. Put this all together and you have a satisfyingly/stimulatingly generous range of music – that 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,' the instantaneous musical poetry of which is later commented on – here - in hazardous recollection and some 'tranquility.' The memory does not create the poetry. In this case – it was already there in the moment... Trust me on that at least...
Without generosity, there is no adventure... let Joe McPhee have the last word:
'This music...call it jazz or whatever, is a living thing, not museum music...it needs to take risks in order to adapt and survive.'
(From here... )