By Derek Taylor
Musicians listen to and even revere records. It’s a tautological statement that’s easy to take for granted in its obviousness, but one that opens up interesting lines of inquiry upon consideration. Pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Joe Morris had a colloquy about shared love for John Coltrane’s Live at the Village Vanguard Again, the saxophonist’s last stand with what would prove his final band at that fabled NYC venue. Ticonderoga, another record, was the eventual result.
In a pithy set of liners, Morris draws parallels between the titular Mohawk word meaning “juncture of two waterways” and the collaborative connections that spawned the ensemble and resulting music. Joe McPhee was actually at the Coltrane gig in question (front row, center, natch) back in ‘66, a revelation that confirmed his participation in the project a must. Drummer Charles Downs (formerly Rashid Bakir), a four-decade veteran of free jazz pursuits was tapped for the drum chair. Saft’s rural New York studio served as launching pad as the foursome burned through four collective improvisations of controlled chaos over an hour’s expanse.
McPhee limits his reed cache to Coltrane-reminiscent tenor and soprano saxophones, striking a middle ground between the great man’s mellifluousness and Pharoah Sanders’ speaking in tongues. Briefest in the program at nine-minutes, “Beyond Days” builds from a syncopated sticks-on-rims drum beat, McPhee’s breathy tenor taking gentle and then urgent wing against the warm thrum of Morris’ strings. Saft’s entry echoes his hero Alice Coltrane in its oceanic, harp-like cascade of notes and it’s a dense, roiling race to the finish with instruments colliding and caroming to combustible effect.
“Simplicity of Man” scales back the heat, at least initially, with McPhee again on tenor blowing soulful and aggressive against another meaty Morris bass line and more sidebar syncopations from Downs. Saft drops in sparse, pedal-dampened commentary that turns to shining pillar-like chords and rapid right hand runs. The piece spools expansively to a climactic end point through a martial, cowbell-punctuated drum solo from Downs. “Leaves of Certain” and “A Backward King” together add to another half-hour and change and the invocations of that inspirational aforementioned album are both overt and oblique with McPhee hitting some tremendous soprano heights on each and Morris putting his bass through a speaker-jarring pizzicato gauntlet on the last. Of a piece aesthetically and yet wholly different from its progenitor this album and the band that birthed it both have serious legs.