Four tracks recorded live capture yet another foray involving Joe McPhee, who must be, thankfully, one of the most documented contemporary improvisers. Of course, anyone would love to have this master improviser on his date, and here one senses that saxophonist John Dikeman, bassist Jon Rune Strom and drummer Tollef Østvang — collectively going by the name of Universal Indians — are inspired to play at the top of their abilities by McPhee's presence.
The band name's allusion to the Albert Ayler song is not coincidental. The music here is very much in the vein of the Ayler Love Cry, the immediate, no-bullshit, passionate playing that is about heart and soul and vital musical gestures, devoid of artifice and glib showmanship.
McPhee's presence on both alto and tenor sax, and on pocket trumpet, adds a fourth voice to the rather minimalist conception of the band, where there is lots of space, lots of quiet moments, building and resolving, ebbing and flowing in very organic ways. The tunes always come out of centered silences and seem to arise like castles from thin air, imposing structures that leave one awestruck and changed from the listen — how many CD releases can you truly say that about?
The "Universal Indians" theme from Ayler is not stated, per se, but alluded to in the opening of the title track by McPhee's trumpet, echoing very briefly Don Ayler's passionate reiteration over which Albert wailed. Here it's Dikeman wailing, and McPhee's trumpet reiterating long lines of fluid incantation and outcry. Then McPhee takes his sax and wails with drums and bass full-throttle, with the rumbling, rolling energy reminiscent of Coltrane-Garrison-Jones interactions. The one "ballad" of the album would be the short piece of the set (at 5:21), called "Dewey's do," but it is music in a loud whisper with lots of pregnant pauses and a powerful undertow.
Four musicians interacting in real time, living the music as they play it, with beautiful energy throughout in very organic narrative arcs. Music created in a spirit of concentrative listening and respectful call and response, bluesy and funky, blustery and precise. This is improvisation at its best, and judging from the applause, well appreciated.
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