Joe McPhee / Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – Brooklyn DNA (CF 244)
While Joe McPhee is a masterful ensemble player, I’ve always found his solo and duo recordings especially rewarding, particularly his strikingly strong body of work with bassists. This recording, from 2011, is his second duo release with bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and from the first alto blasts it is evident that this one is a winner. Over the course of eight relatively compact improvisations, McPhee and Håker Flaten hone in on a collective sound, navigating their way through pieces which build simple themes into conversational freedom. The CD pays homage to Brooklyn, NY and its jazz history, with titles that give nods to Sonny Rollins, Dewey Redman and Don Cherry, as well as Brooklyn clubs like Putnam Central and The Blue Coronet, settings for historic sessions. These references underpin the work, providing conceptual foundation but never stylistic confinement.
For this session, McPhee leaves aside his tenor sax, switching between alto, soprano, and pocket trumpet – getting a chance to hear so much of his alto playing is a real treat. While not quite as indelibly striking as his deeper horn, his full-throated, crying tone and muscular attack set his sound apart from most alto players. Soprano and pocket trumpet provide effective timbral contrasts as the pieces interleave the three instruments. Håker Flaten is a lyrical bassist and his lithe, darting lines provide a potent countering voice. Throughout, there is a fluid feeling of give and take informed by keen listening. The two know how to prod and propel each other, and just when to drop back to let the other stretch out. The sharp-edged melodic themes carry these pieces, underscoring the two musicians’ distinctive approach to thematic freedom.