Joe McPhee

In Finland

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Considering the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of albums in which Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, and Dominic Duval have each participated, you might think that at some point they might start repeating themselves -- and, perhaps someday they will. But, on this special album, they perform tenaciously as a unit, spouting a seemingly endless flow of ideas, an unstoppable volcanic eruption. Not that this is music of ecstasy: to the contrary, it is highly nuanced, with Joe McPhee, in particular showing a sentimental and sensitive side that exploits the length of the tracks. Able to stretch out in a sympathetic, live setting, McPhee displays a stunning diversity on "Never Before" (morphing at the end to "My Funny Valentine,") while Matthew Shipp, true to form, reveals some of his best work on disc -- something producer Bob Rusch proudly notes in his liners. There is a crispness to the pianist's playing, an economy, and a focus that coalesce, as Shipp is clearly inspired by his colleagues. The third wheel, bassist Dominic Duval, is recorded beautifully, and both as soloist and anchor, he is characteristically stunning, his nimble fingers jumping with unmitigated speed and precision. Recorded live in Finland before what appears to be a small but appreciative audience, In Finland captures in high fidelity a sense of wonder that existed that night. On "Never Again," McPhee again sticks mostly to soprano sax, this time somewhat more aggressively than on the opener, but not before he plunges forward on pocket trumpet, even if only momentarily. What distinguishes the piece is the almost eerie sense of timing, the ESP-like sense of unity that pervades, in which a freely improvised extended part appears brilliantly planned. Once again, Shipp rises to new heights, relaxed, technically superb, and logically sequential. The piece closes with some very fine Monk, with Shipp particularly impressive in a difficult role. The final number, "In Finland," is a thinly veiled version of "Summertime," a tune that Shipp has performed before with considerable success. For this version, McPhee begins on pocket trumpet, quickly switching to soprano sax, with which he is more fluent and lyrical -- though it is precisely his discomfort on trumpet that makes his blatantly primitive attack on that instrument curiously appealing. By the end of this full-length recording, the listener has participated in a journey that applies new perspectives to common themes, challenges traditional concepts, and soars toward a paradigm of order and structure that emerges from a morass of free improvisation -- a magnificent feat that sparkles majestically.

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