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Joe McPhee and Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten: Blue Chicago Blues

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In Blue Chicago Blues, recorded in 2007, the duo of tenor player Joe McPhee and bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten balances out very well, in ethnicity, instrumentation, musical personality, and tonal character. McPhee is relaxed with the openness of his horn and Håker-Flaten, attentively diligent at emphasizing the tautness of his bass strings. “Requiem for An Empty Heart” sounds the blues-iest of all of the six tracks. But McPhee’s poetry on the back cover of the record jacket settles any question of how blues are anyway: “For this here ain’t nothin’ but the blues, nasty, low down, trifflin’ and sweet…” Dedicated to the late Chicago tenorman, Fred Anderson, the recording refers to blues-makers Oliver Nelson and Ornette Coleman and simple imaginations of the downtrodden or the mercurial female kind.

Håker-Flaten is one-third of The Thing, the trio with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson. McPhee has performed with them many times from their inception in 2000. Norwegian Håker-Flaten is a small, compact, energetic, perpetual motion machine. His technique is generally born of precision and expedition, yet, his slow-tempo pizzicato presents itself with a guitar-like resonance. The bassist also sings out-loud when the feeling calls for it.

McPhee’s treatment of the tenor passes through a wide range: from a two-note ostinato phrase to seemingly un-sequential arpeggios, to whining, cat-like squeals to melodies that are to die for. He does not refrain from splitting tones and he molds pure, tender ones which he dabbles with and then leaves behind in sourness. He is not wont to vocalize through the reed to extend the expressivity of the notes he presses through or sharpens or flats. McPhee is a master of telling a story with the musical line. These stories burn as hot as the blue flame pictured on the disc’s cover.

Originally Published