In September 1996, Joe and Mike recorded Finger Wigglers (CIMP 127), a duo session which was notable not just for the joys of its music but also because it was the first recording of this unit as well as Joe’s first all-tenor date in 20 years. Sometime during the next 12 months, during one of their tours, I was again offered the opportunity to record the duo but turned it down, not because I didn’t believe its excellence, but because I really didn’t see how one could improve on what had already been recorded. It is my aim, with limited time and resources, to record a variety of excellence. Then, sometime around March of 1998, Mike sent me a recording of the duo from a KCMU Radio (Seattle, WA) broadcast. The music was full and excellent and with a clearly different color and personality from Finger Wigglers. And it offered all the excuse I needed to rationalize a return trip.
The session began on the evening of July 6th and opened with “Makeover Makeover.” During the sound checks, I thought the duo sounded particularly in gear and I think this exposition gives a clear indication of just how on they were. Mike gives a fullness to his playing, with the attention and musicality to playing behind, around, and in front of Joe that suggests the ambience of a larger group. Joe’s playing is arguably at its peak, wonderfully lean, focused, and direct.
Listen to how beautifully and fully this duo extemporizes music which is both accessible and yet unfamiliar. This is classic musical language spoken by 2 who have matured and sharpened their imaginations and techniques with a fluidness which in turn produces a consistently high level of eloquence. And it’s fun too. Who knows where the journey goes and who cares the destination. Listen to the evoking of spirits in The Spirit Room on “Gracie’s Amazing,” with Joe multi-toning on voice/sax and Mike droning in another key. For this, lights had been turned off, the journey began and so did the fun. What an epic! It is by itself a total concert.
To me, this music sits on the edge; its fluency is near flawless, its execution exciting, and its discovery – while very real – seems largely devoid of struggle. I think for many listeners there is a desire to have to work to receive. In effect, it seems to me that Joe and Mike are approaching a virtuosity where one can almost count on them to “deliver” the goods. When artists reach this level of greater perfection, other qualities are often lost; the parts may be more “perfect” but the whole seems less so. As a result, not having to “struggle” with this music can be a bit disconcerting in its comfort but, when I take the energies not used in the struggle and redirect my focus on just the statement, it’s all there.
This is inspired and breathtaking music. The ideas, the pacing, the exchange and depth of improvisation are all there. Perfection in improvising music is an oxymoron and its pursuit ultimately a death march. This duo’s music isn’t perfect but they’re wonderfully close, it seems. What is offered up here is perfectly wonderful listening and a brilliant success.
This music is issued in the same order it was recorded.
Robert D. Rusch - 7/7/98