Eminent improvisers, alto saxophonist/pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee and drummer Michael Zerang lay out an impressionistic series of abstracts, underscored by a New Orleans vibe on this session recorded live in the Crescent City at Big Top. They navigate through seedy streets, yet exude hope and a variety of emotive characteristics while sustaining a great deal of interest throughout. Passionate, significantly creative and synergistic, the duo launches the festivities with the 24-minute piece "Congo Square Dances/Saints and Sinners."
McPhee's compact sounding pocket trumpet is used for bristling undercurrents amid scratchy phrasings and screeching upper-register statements, partly wrapped around ethereal qualities in concert with Zerang's textural drumming. McPhee soars, lowers the pitch, and proclaims remarkable clarity and balances the program with his alto sax. Moreover, Zerang manages the rhythmic flows, but offsets and counterbalances McPhee's notes via subtle manipulations and soundscaping mechanisms, such as scraping the cymbals and using his drums for tonal treatments.
The musicians spawn a soul-blues element that renders a kindred spirit type outlook with New Orleans, and inject rolling-waves into the piece to complement a spiritual reckoning of sorts. Budding and climactic, the duo's muse parallels life's complexities and distractions with moments of angst. However, they pull out the proverbial stops and engage in some rebel rousing towards the finale.
Their keenly articulated theme-building efforts should offer an educational backbone to nascent improvisers and seasoned vets. They take their time, and enact a wealth of compelling notions with shifting tides, shrewd dynamics, and soul-stirring shades and hues, conveyed through the mouthpiece of art on this album dedicated to master drummer Alvin Fielder.