Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

John McNeil & Mike Fahie: Plainsong (Destiny)

Review of new album from two brass players backed by an all-star trio

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Cover of John McNeil & Mike Fahie album Plainsong
Cover of John McNeil & Mike Fahie album Plainsong

How deep can two brass players’ collaboration run? And how much of that depth can they fit onto one album? With Plainsong, a postbop compendium and their first recording together, trumpeter John McNeil and trombonist Mike Fahie mean to find out. And on both counts, the answer is “an impressive amount.” The contributions of their rhythm section—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Billy Hart—similarly impress.

McNeil and Fahie’s musical relationship has nuance. They can act as foils: On the improv vehicle “Can Do,” McNeil’s solo is a flow of melodies, while Fahie’s is about thrust. They can also be extensions of each other: Fahie emanates warmth and fondness on the elegy “Abercrombie,” and when McNeil follows him, the primary difference is that the trumpeter is warmer and fonder still. And they can do both at once: Fahie scatters streaks of notes under McNeil on “Green Chimneys,” something between fills and counterpoint. He pushes back playfully, but also seems to reach the harmonic nooks and crannies McNeil missed. Their dynamic is constantly in flux, and fun to listen to.

Yet it takes the full quintet to seal the deal. Iverson rarely hews this closely to conventional harmony, but his Silver-esque vamps on “Backseat Pedal” prove he’s more than up for it. Martin and Hart swing away, both providing gratifying solos (on “Abercrombie” and “Can Do,” respectively). But it’s when they work in trio formation, as they do behind Iverson’s solo on the lively “Get Out,” that they show the strongest empathy and make the most interesting choices. It strengthens the entire equation.

McNeil and Fahie should not only maintain the Plainsong quintet; next time, they should give Iverson, Martin and Hart equal billing.


Preview, buy or download songs from the album Step by Steps on iTunes.

Read John McNeil’s Artist’s Choice column on Thad Jones.


Originally Published