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Peter Brotzmann/Joe McPhee/Kent Kessler/Michael Zerang: Tales Out of Time

Dedications mean more when there’s an actual relationship between the composer and the dedicatee, so it’s probably no coincidence that the two tenor-sax duets by Joe McPhee and Peter Brotzmann that bookend Tales Out of Time (Hatology) are so compelling. The late Irving Stone and his wife, Stephanie, are well known among the New York free-jazz scene’s best friends, and Joe McPhee wrote “Stone Poems Nos. 1 & 2” for the couple. The two pieces seem barely composed; the saxophonists’ reactive natures and emotional depth give them their substance. McPhee and Brotzmann are joined on the other cuts by the bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang. The performances are nicely varied, such as Brotzmann’s spare, elegiac “Master of a Small House,” Zerang’s brittle, hyperactive “Cymbalism” and McPhee’s quasi-martial (in an Ayler-ish sense) “Pieces of Red, Green, and Blue.” There’s not a lot of no-holds-barred free blowing, most tracks leave plenty of sonic headroom and the playing is uniformly excellent. Ultimately, however, it’s the textural and dynamic contrasts from tune to tune that are the record’s greatest strength.

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