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Decoy & Joe McPhee Spontaneous Combustion Review

Album. Released 2013.  

BBC Review

Relentlessly entertaining, life-affirming stuff, crackling with muscular energy.

Peter Marsh 2013

This is the second live album from this pairing of British trio Decoy with the veteran American improviser Joe McPhee. Despite recording some sporadically brilliant records over the last four decades, it's only recently that McPhee, who unusually plays both saxophones and trumpet, has emerged from relative obscurity.

Decoy are also unusual in that their line-up features a Hammond organ. It's not an instrument that's easily led to new musical pastures, but the group’s Alexander Hawkins seems to have done it without too much force, and doesn’t really reference anyone who's gone before him.

Bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble are somewhat ubiquitous on the free jazz circuit, due to their ability to spontaneously construct and deconstruct grooves, producing sounds you'd be more likely to hear coming from a breaker's yard than from bass and drums. They give Decoy's music a rich, volatile undertow.

Despite his reputation as a high-energy player, McPhee is a restrained presence here. Opening with pocket trumpet, he peals off some joyous, Don Cherry-type squalls as an annunciation.

The music has space but soon hums with tension, McPhee sighing out melodies like a weary bugler over icy shimmers from the Hammond and the rhythm section's opening salvos.

Eventually Edwards and Noble slip the leash and launch into an irresistible swing, triggering a high-octane workout of boiling intensity. Hawkins steps up to solo, worrying away at a couple of notes then breaking off into blurred, furious runs, like Jimmy Smith channelling Cecil Taylor.

Later, McPhee honks out some blunt, bluesy, punkish alto worthy of an Archie Shepp date. Noble bashes some avant-funk out of what might be a metal bucket. Edwards drags distended lines from the belly of the double bass. Hawkins coaxes a gently atonal drizzle of notes from the organ, Sun Ra style, before the quartet rides off into the sunset on a juicy groove worthy of Charles Mingus.

Nothing is off limits here.

There's also a sense that this was a special night: reviews of the gig were ecstatic, and the audience's occasional gasps or whoops seem involuntary and spontaneous. Throughout its 37 minutes this music crackles with a restless, muscular energy that live recordings often lack. It’s relentlessly entertaining, life-affirming stuff.

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