Free bassist Dominic Duval's Rules of Engagement series of duets continues apace with this second volume featuring Joe McPhee on soprano saxophone as his opposite number. There is a fairly large amount of thematic material being improvised around for such an avant garde date, and the results are impressive. The music is by turns hot, cool, impressionistic, elegant and elegiac; Duval and McPhee communicate together very effectively and creatively.
The set opens up with "Nexus," a burst of kinetic energy reminiscent of early 1960s Ornette Coleman. The next several tracks are variations of and/or corollaries to McPhee's "Birmingham Sunday," his meditation on the epochal 1963 church bombing in Alabama that resulted in the deaths of four little girls. These are emotionally rich, melding probing bass lines both bowed and plucked with soulful blowing; an understated and fairly straightforward reading of "Amazing Grace" follows as a sort of coda, sounding both triumphant and defiant after the half hour that precedes it.
Yet we don't leave this charged territory entirely; next is a slow, almost serpentine unfolding of "While My Lady Sleeps," with its inevitable echoes of John Coltrane's version. Coltrane is further invoked in "Coming Forth," ostensibly an original piece by McPhee & Duval that more turns into than features a quote from "India;" Duval's percussive technique seems at least much in the debt of Elvin Jones as of Jimmy Garrison. Closing the set out are two extended solos, first from McPhee, then Duval. But the segue is seamless and the the duet de facto.
Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2 is a fascinating recording. The music is spiritually rooted in the 1960s, with nods to Ornette, Trane and perhaps Sam Rivers, but nonetheless modern. The interplay between Dominic Duval and Joe McPhee is very close, and the conceptual depth of the date is considerable and striking.