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Album Review

In the unfortunate tradition of adventurous U.S. jazz musicians being more highly regarded abroad than at home, saxman Joe McPhee has been focusing his efforts on the European market since the ‘70s. As he begins his seventh decade on this planet, McPhee continues to create challenging music in a European context on Oto. The album was recorded live in London with the British avant-jazz organ/bass/drums trio Decoy in 2009, and it contains three long, uncompromising pieces of free jazz that show McPhee's urge for innovation to be as strong as ever. The 40-minute "Opening Might" is a no-holds-barred tour de force, a firefight that finds McPhee and Decoy engaging in blistering runs at a frenetic pace for what seems like a physically unhealthy amount of time before finally bringing the dynamic back down to explore less explosive modes of musical communication, and finally closing out on some downright melodic moments. With incendiary organist Alexander Hawkins giving his all, there are moments that evoke Larry Young's contributions to the Tony Williams Lifetime's classic Emergency! album. "Breakout" is a bit of a volte-face, where the band simmers for much of the half-hour piece's length, as drummer Steve Noble in particular explores seemingly every conceivable textural option at his disposal. Things close out with the much more concise "Dancing on the Wolf Road," on which McPhee sticks surprisingly close to simple melodic motifs while the Decoy members dance in and around his lines, creating a percussive, polyrhythmic rhapsody that feels undeniably exultant. The crowd that erupts into howls of approval and hailstorms of applause at its finish can't help but make you wish you were there, but hearing Oto is the next best thing. ~ J. Allen, Rovi

Oto, Decoy
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