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John McNeil & Mike Fahie: Plainsong (Destiny)

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

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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.

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