Click here to [close]

Monday, November 9, 2015

Joe McPhee - Solos - The Lost Tapes (1980 - 1981 - 1984) (Roaratorio, 2015) ****

By Stef

The "Roaratorio" label is the publisher of McPhee's solo work, with some highly recommendable albums, including "Everything Happens For A Reason" (sax and trumpet), and the more focused albums "Alto" and "Soprano", all follow-up albums to his "Tenor" dating from 1976.

The label now brings us "The Lost Tapes", with recordings from the early eighties, and on which the artist plays his various horns.

The first piece, "Wind Cycles" is a phenomenal excursion on tenor, in which McPhee varies passages of circular breathing with wind-like whispers, eery multiphonics and dark experimental rumblings, oscillating between vulnerable hesitation and determined power.

"The Redwood Rag", goes back to the real jazz tradition, rhythmic, melodic, even if the rhythm desintegrates for a less formal and free approach, it is full of joy and musical happiness.

"Ice Blue" is an alto piece, starting with tormented squeezed sounds, in terms of rhythm and phrasing closer to a human monologue than a musical composition, with sudden bursts of emphasis, short pauses, uncertain moments followed by a cascade of arguments, as in response to a non-existent interlocutor. McPhee himself qualifies the improvisation as "a sound which evokes and image, which asks a question 'What is that?' and the answer is, a sound which evokes an image which asks a question". Some circular reasoning and a koan-like paradox.

The last track "Voices" is again on soprano and it starts with an almost classical clarity of tone, very solemn, extremely beautiful in tone and delivery, emotional, sensitive, fragile and precise, soaring at times, then it moves away from the tune to become more exploratory in timbre and phrasing, like the twittering of birds, and when the main theme comes back, electronics can be heard, like rhythmical echoes laying an uncanny foundation for McPhee's repetitive powerful phrasing, that becomes increasingly modified in its hypnotic progress, like a Philip Glass composition, ending in one of McPhee's signature techniques : singing while playing, again of the core theme.

The album is of course a collection of separate pieces without common unity, and that is surely the downside of this album, yet each of the tracks are of such high quality that we can recommend it, and fans of McPhee should try to find out a copy (only 500 made).