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Dominic Duval & Joe McPhee - Rules of Engagement Vol. 2

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Artist: Dominic Duval & Joe McPhee

Album: Rules of Engagement Vol. 2

Label: Drimala

Review date: Nov. 25, 2004

Second in bassist Dominic Duval’s continuing duet series for Drimala, Rules of Engagement, Vol. 2 revisits one of the primary partnerships that have shaped his music of the last several years. As two-thirds of Trio X, he and saxophonist Joe McPhee have logged countless miles on the road, taking creative improvised music to the people and honing a rapport that ranks as one of the most intrinsic in the art form. Their earlier duo recording The Dream Book zeroed in on the inspiration of Ornette Coleman and found McPhee predominately on alto. Here he leaves his other reed and brass implements at home and sticks solely to soprano. Duval eschews his occasional electronics accoutrements and the pair plays purely acoustic.

The set divides into 11 neatly demarcated tracks. A small handful revolve around one of McPhee’s most singular compositions, “Birmingham Sunday,” a piece built on a woebegone melodic motif scripted in memory of the four black school girls murdered in an Alabama church in 1963. While its origins lie in an impossibly tragic event, there’s also a grain of haunting beauty shot through the theme. Duval and McPhee give a somewhat meandering reading of the piece proper, sandwiching it with more concentrated impromptu variations entitled simply “Sunday Improvisations 1 & 2.” While there are better realized versions of the piece (the rendering on McPhee’s In the Spirit for one), the improvisations are quite absorbing, especially the second where McPhee’s straight horn sketches a finespun spooling line from the melody that sinks between the ears and saturates the empathy zone of the cerebrum.

The disc’s opening “Nexus” places scrutiny on McPhee’s understated skills at circular breathing. His argot is less ostentatious than Evan Parker’s dense helixical dialect with a more overtly melodic bent. McPhee also breaks up his striated tonal streams with languidly traced legato lines. The structures materialize gradually, standing in sharp contrast to Parker’s effusive inundations. Indicative of the duo’s shared affection for spirituals, they voice a brief invocation of “Amazing Grace.” The standard “While My Lady Sleeps” marks one of the rare incongruous instances between the two, as they appear slightly out of synch at McPhee’s entry after a solo bass preface. Duval seems caught slightly off guard, but it’s a momentary stumble. On “Coming Forth,” there’s no semblance of irregularity. Duval crafts a droning drum pattern, slapping his strings and bouncing the pads of his fingers against the wood beneath them while McPhee flutters atop. The disc closes curiously with cuts for solo sax and bass where each man turns in some of his most detached and technique-driven material of the session. It’s an odd note to end on, especially considering the emotional depth of what’s transpired prior.

Duval reportedly already has the third volume in this series ready for factory pressing. A conclave with trombonist Steve Swell, it’s due for release early in the new year. Until then this meeting with McPhee will more than tide listeners over.

By Derek Taylor

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