Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano - "Dark Matter (2nd part)" (Under a Double Moon)
This pairing should work far better than it does. On this vinyl release, we have two of the finest improvising musicians from two different generations. Each is known for high energy and extreme subtlety, raising the bar where all aspects of musicmaking are concerned. The combination looks fantastic on paper, but these 2010 live recordings do not gel nearly as often as might be expected.
Frankly, much of the material’s problematic nature resides with Joe McPhee. Part of what might be missing is his tenor. While he has made extraordinary contributions with every instrument he plays, tenor has always held a special place in his sonic palette and often brings out the magic sounds that only McPhee can make. However, even his work here on alto, soprano and pocket trumpet do not match previous efforts. There is something tentative here, a restraint exacerbated by fits and starts. About five minutes into the first part of “Dark Matter,” the energy that has been building suddenly dissipates, leaving McPhee trilling in a way that is both beautiful and somehow disappointing. While the ensuing silences have long been part of McPhee’s language — listen to the stunning title track of Tenor — they stop the music’s flow prematurely. Ever the attentive listener, Corsano’s bowed percussion cannot help the track to recover momentum.
McPhee falls prey to these silences throughout. When Corsano opens the second part of “Dark Matter” with a light groove, it would seem to offer an excellent opportunity for McPhee to enter into, or react against, the multiple timbres Corsano’s laying down; his pocket trumpet utterances bring the music to a halt again. Such moments are fine when the timing is right, but they lose effect in such quantities.
It should go without saying that no disc by such consummate musicians can be without moments of power and beauty. McPhee’s bluesy regret haunts the opening of “New Voices,” and his buttery upper register tone and heartbreaking vibrato are always a wonder to hear. We are also finally given a small dose of raw power in the piece dedicated to Giuseppe Logan, a small glimpse of the heights this music might have scaled. There are also the gorgeous moments, in the second part of “Dark Matter," where McPhee’s whistling is complemented by delicate percussion tracery from Corsano. The rest of Under a Double Moon, however, feels too much like scraps and shadows.