This 1999 OKKA Disk begins so quietly that you do not know that there is any sound recorded. The gradually pitches of air come to your ears and the first section of BRASS CITY I-VII takes shape even in its sparseness. The most economic, yet expressive, sound for Joe McPhee can only be achieved there through skillful control of the cornet or saxophone, or valved trombone. Jeb Bishop's trombone often fluidly fo;llows the spare notes of Joe's instruments. The instruments purposefully change sound slots and join texturally to swath the delicate, nearly restrained, space. Brightness ensues in Section III. Contrapuntal dialog begins to electrify the instrumentalists. By the time Section IV is reached, a truly audible conversation takes place where the sound qualities and characteristics of each instrument are revealed more openly and freely. The restraint seems to have disappeared such that a rhythmic content develops and is taken to a conclusion whose sharpness and quickness becomes a pattern for each cut on the CD. Section V offers up a melodious rocking rhythm with Joe in the lead on valved trombone that often branches off into mini-explorations of the brass fabric by the two players but comes back on another level of symphony. Section VI deconstructs any rhythmic cohesion as the two play bubbled groups of notes that even include the projection of a voice out the bell of one of the horns. In Section VII, the two pull together in a hum, an interplay of dotted and fluid mixtures, and tests of a circular breathing in the playing of single note melodies on both trombones, one maintaining a low pitch, the other a slightly higher echo-like one.
OUTPOST (for Tom Guralnick) is a solo on soprano saxophone by Joe. It is a solo that examines an upper register of the horn with clarity. The notes often transform into valving that comes across like the flow of water through the sound space. These notes are interspersed with sour ones which do not distract from the sweetness rising from the brief up and down fingering on the valve keys that ends the solo abruptly.
TRANSMUTE balances the previous solo sax cut with a solo trombone piece. Jeb takes to trombone out of a slow short melody line to phrasing to breathing to phrasing to breathing to phrasing to make a sound that transcends expectations of trombone playing. It seems that the slide cannot possibly move that much because Jeb closed down the limits of the notes he plays. A hum through the horn flutters slightly so to close out this piece.
THE ROZWELL INCIDENT concludes this CD with Joe on sax and Jeb on trombone. In this piece, Joe molds the sax through and around into sounding like the trombone, although not as deep in tone and the notes still distinct from the separate spherical pitches emanating from Jeb's horn in the background. At one point there is a beautiful unison that moves into a solemn line on the sax which is rattled by the tubbiness of the trombone. The sax brilliantly takes the tune out as if pretending to be the train on the front cover of the CD envelope, screeching, sounding its whistle, puffing its steam into the midst...screeching into a long, drawn out halt.
THE BRASS CITY takes you on a ride that you will not forget. Take the time to enjoy it.