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Raphe Malik/Joe McPhee/Donald Robinson: Sympathy

On Sympathy (Boxholder), the trio of Raphe Malik, Joe McPhee and Donald Robinson go at the two-horns-with-drums setup, but they fall victims of the format’s built-in limitations. Without a bassist, the straightahead swinging passages in “Hypersonic,” for example, sound a bit like a Jamey Aebersold Play-Along with the left channel turned all the way down. Fortunately, there’s not that much straightahead swinging. When it does happen, the tunes are loose enough that drummer Robinson has ample freedom to interact with the horns. Trumpeter Malik gets composer’s credit, but the tunes are sketches-laconic free-time collective improvisation. Malik and McPhee (who plays soprano sax and pocket trumpet here) sometimes seem like they’re in a contest to see who can play the fewest notes. Occasionally it sounds desultory, but at its best, as on the soprano-trumpet duet “Motivic,” their quiet, melodic interplay is lovely to behold.

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