Flow Trio & Joe McPhee “Winter Garden”

On their own, Flow Trio (Louis Belogenis, Rashid Bakr, and Joe Morris) are a massive force. Add in Joe McPhee and you better find something sturdy to hold onto because they’re going to rip whatever’s in front of them to shreds. Winter Garden was recorded in early 2020 and finds the quartet in rare form. Bass, drums, and two saxophones go absolutely wild for about an hour, bouncing through tight spaces while the group pushes their bodies and instruments to their limits. I’m feeling blessed.

McPhee and Belogenis do an incredible job throughout leaving space for the other all while knowing when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Morris and Bakr do an incredible job in driving the rhythms; the cacophonous interplay between scattershot drumming and the thrumming power of the bass flowing in unison like a machine. These two are locked in, giving the two saxophones a runway to take off from. On “Recombinant,” McPhee and Belogenis open proceedings with a choreographed dance of arpeggios moving in all directions. When the rhythm section joins the fray, the piece feels heavy and impenetrable. Both saxophones continue their ascent before crashing back to earth, stardust covering their fingers.

The entirety of Winter Garden is at full-speed. At no point does the group see the point in mellowing out and taking it easy. Sure, there’s some gentler passages – a bass solo here, a sax lament there – but generally they are on the entire time. “Harbinger” shows off Bakr’s intricate playing, filling in gaps with loud snare hits or lightspeed stick work. I get goosebumps at the all-out squalor of “Incandescence,” an appropriate title if there ever was one. Track after track, Flow Trio and Joe McPhee simply go off. 

In the liner notes it mentions that between the four of them, there’s 159 years of collective experience. You can hear it in the way the album closing title track coalesces around two disparate saxophone solos, each a meteor on its own, but together – especially in conjunction with Morris’ bowed bass howl and Bakr’s blasts – it’s a whole damn galaxy of shooting stars. Winter Garden is a testament to all those years of experience and isn’t for the faint of heart.