A set of six intimate duets was realized by trumpeter John McDonough and saxophonist Anthony Braxton in July 2006 and released five years later on the label run by Chuck Nessa, who helped produce Braxton's groundbreaking album For Alto back in 1968. Since becoming established as a respected and beloved educator at Wesleyan University, Braxton has been involved in several recording projects affiliated with that worthy institution. Most of these feature him as one half of an improvisatory duo. An album of Wesleyan duets with percussionist Abraham Adzinyah was released in 1994, and Braxton's accomplished pupil, Taylor Ho Bynum, cut an album of duets with him there in 2002. When in 2005 McDonough helped Bynum to organize the premiere of Braxton's Composition 103 for seven choreographed and costumed trumpeters, the composer showed his appreciation by inviting McDonough to participate in a duo recording session. The resulting album, which was produced by McDonough, opens with his angular bop construct "Finnish Line" and closes with "Schizoid," a John Zorn-inspired collage piece during which the trumpeter pays homage to the rambunctious spirit of Lester Bowie. The third selection credited to McDonough, "Massive Breath Attack," materialized as a friendly exchange of elongated tones. "Hail to the Spirit of Liberty" was composed by John Philip Sousa in 1900. Revisited here, the tidy little march is infused with the gracious good humor and camaraderie that characterize the best of Braxton's one-on-one collaborations. The 17-minute "Improvisation" is comparably companionable, with contours which are recognizable imprints of Braxton's endearingly thoughtful persona. His composition 168 was first unveiled in duo performance with accordionist Ted Reichman in 1993 at Leipzig. It re-emerged as an element in the Small Ensemble Music project at Wesleyan in 1994, only to resurface in duets with bassist Joe Fonda in 1995, and with multi-reed improviser Scott Rosenberg in 2000. The Braxton-McDonough manifestation of 168 lasts more than 18 minutes and contains elements of the previously mentioned Composition 103, the very work which in essence triggered this collaborative recording date. McDonough, who is founder of the Thelonious Monk reinterpretation band Brilliant Coroners, is heard at his most relaxed and creative in the best imaginable company. Anyone who really loves and respects Anthony Braxton should most certainly track down a copy of this heartwarming tête-á-tête.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf