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Blue Reality Quartet - s/t (Mahakala Music)

26 July 2021

With jazz’s long history of saxophone/drums duo albums (see: John Surman’s The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon with Jack DeJohnette, *Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s El Corazon and, of course, John Coltrane’s magnificent Interstellar Space with Rashied Ali), it was only a matter of time before some musicians decided to double up. Originally pulled together for a concert, the Blue Reality Quartet consists of reedists Michael Marcus and Joe McPhee and percussionists Jay Rosen and Warren Smith. McPhee’s name likely puts both lovers and haters of chaos on high alert, but this record doesn’t do much freeform improvisation. Instead, the musicians take a more structured approach, while still allowing room to wander. Moving back and forth between trap sets and vibraphones, Rosen and Smith rarely stay in the pocket, but they don’t abandon the rhythms, either, often swirling around each other to imply the beat. McPhee and Marcus play complementary lines on saxophones, flute and bass clarinet, sometimes weaving their parts together like thread in a rung, and sometimes creating thick clusters of harmonic riffs. “Bluer Than Blue,” “Love Exists Everywhere” and “Joe’s Train” pull at the corners of their melodies, but never distort them into unrecognizable shapes, and always let the musicians express themselves as they see fit. Only the roiling “East Side Dilemma” steps firmly into the free jazz arena one might expect from these players. Not as atmospheric as Surman’s album, but nowhere near as frenetic as Coltrane’s, Blue Reality Quartet essentially uses its bottomless, chord-free environment in service of strong, elastic tunes.