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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Joe McPhee/John Edwards - Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone (Idyllic Noise, 2021) ****

By Martin Schray

Almost every recording with Joe McPhee builds a bridge to the past. Especially at live gigs, he likes to begin his performances with introductory words, often addressing where the music he plays comes from. These openings are often filled with socio-cultural, political, and religious references. This also goes for Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone. McPhee preaches in the style of Martin Luther King - supported by John Edwards’s tremolos and slabs on the bass - about John Coltrane’s death and the impact it has had for the community by making hints to the work of the writer James Baldwin. Doing this, he uses typical stylistic devices: metaphors, repetitions, biblical and literary allusions. It takes more than four minutes before he lets his saxophone ring - in typical John Coltrane style, of course.

Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone was recorded at the artacts festival in St. Johann/ Austria and is considered one of the most wonderful moments in the festival’s long history. For the first time McPhee played in a duo with John Edwards (as a trio the two already worked with drummer Klaus Kugel) and the combination of Joe McPhee’s emotional spirituality and John Edwards’s enormous playfulness was rightfully celebrated by the audience.

The two of them demonstrate the whole range of what free improvised music has to present today. Of course, Joe McPhee is not a mere imitator of John Coltrane’s music, but has developed his own distinctive style. This becomes clearest in “Whispers of Naima“, when he blows next to the mouthpiece, so to speak, and thus sings and plays the instrument at the same time. John Edwards counters the created overtones and the almost exaggerated vibrato with delicate, jotted notes. Then again, they show another side of their interplay on “A Sojourner’s Truth", when McPhee’s blues-soaked lines meet a bass almost reminiscent of a didgeridoo.

Lastly, a word about the post-production: Idyllic Noise is a small, young label. For the future, it would certainly be desirable not to release the whole concert uncut on vinyl, but to leave out the unimportant stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t apply to the music as such, but do almost three minutes of applause and acknowledgements between the end of the last piece and the encore really have to be there? The same goes for people talking during the performance. This might support a certain immediacy, but if you ask me less would certainly have been more here. But that shouldn't stop you from buying this LP.

Tell me How Long Has Trane Been Gone is available on vinyl.

You can buy it from the label: