Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Joe McPhee (Part II)

By Martin Schray

Joe McPhee, Giardullo, Heward, Caloia – Sala Rossa - 2001 (Musique Rayonnante, 2021) ****


I will never forget the moment when I saw Joe McPhee for the first time. It was at the concert series for Peter Br√∂tzmann’s 70th birthday in Wuppertal and he opened the first show with a solo performance for his late friend Billy Bang. It was ten minutes of real sympathy, real emotion, absolutely moving. You could feel that the great violinist meant something to him. Ten years before this event, McPhee played with Joe Giardullo (woodwinds), John Heward (drums) and Nicolas Caloia (double bass) at the Centro Social Espanol (now known as La Sala Rossa) in Montr√©al. 

However, originally scheduled to perform as their trio Undersound, McPhee was to play with Heward and bassist Dominic Duval. Sadly, Duval had to cancel because his wife Katherine had died suddenly two weeks earlier. McPhee and Heward therefore asked Giardullo and Caloia to accompany them, and about 40 minutes into the first set McPhee announced he wanted to play a solo piece in memory of Katherine. 

That piece can be found at the end of the album, and again McPhee exudes pure magic, maybe in a way only he can. McPhee’s voice cracks and breaks as he sings and vocalizes through his saxophone, one of his trademarks. These four minutes alone make this recording worthwhile. But this highlight has already been hinted at in the set, it seems like the whole performance boils down to this. The wild free jazz, the iconoclastic energy, interrupted again and again by contemplative, very intimate moments. 

The Music is also reminiscent of Rodrigo Amado’s Quartet, of which Joe McPhee is also a part of.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Joe McPhee, Michael Marcus, Jay Rosen & Warren Smith - Blue Reality Quartet (Mahakala, 2021) ****


If one thing is true it’s the fact that reality is blue for many people these days. Mainly because of the pandemic - as the cover of this release suggests - but also for various other reasons. “Blue Reality is a nod to a terrible time in our collective history that had an incalculable impact on the music industry and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people worldwide“, the liner notes tell us.

In 2019 hornist Michael Marcus and drummer/percussionist Jay Rosen were invited to the Jazzgalerie in Nickelsdorf/Austria but when the two arrived the organiser asked for a double duo, so to say. He suggested Joe McPhee, who has a history with Jay Rosen in Trio X, and McPhee called his friend Warren Smith, who he played with in the Ayler Project. The gig went extraordinarily well and Marcus wanted to revive the spirit of the show during COVID with a studio recording. 

Blue Reality is a surprisingly accessible album, especially when the vibraphone provides thick layers of harmony for the saxophones. McPhee has always been known for his penchant for beautiful melody and for the blues, here he gets to live that out to the fullest. Melancholy is the main characteristic of Blue Reality, which in the end is more reminiscent of an evil version of Stanley Turrentine’s Blue Hour than McPhee’s wilder ventures. It’s an album that might be happily enjoyed with a heavy red wine in the wee hours of the morning.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Survival Unit III - The Art of Flight- For Alvin Fielder (Astral Spirits & Instigation Records, 2022)

By Stef Gijssels

This is already the seventh album by McPhee's Survival Unit III, an ensemble with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Michael Zerang on drums. This album is dedicated to the late free jazz drummer Alvin Fielder. The only record I could find on which McPhee and Fielder collaborate is the excellent "Six Situations" from 2017 on Not Two, but I assume they performed much more. This set was recorded in 2018 at the Instigation Festival at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, which also saw the last performance of McPhee with Fielder. 

This live performance of the trio is easy to recommend. The sound quality is good, the interplay between the three musicians is excellent, their musical vision finds the right balance between soulful roots and adventurous inventiveness. Even if Lonberg-Holm does not use any electronics on this album, his disruptive and sometimes harsh treatment of his strings create the right challenges for the ensemble to push the limits. McPhee gives a lot of variation too by switching between trumpet and saxes. Zerang is also in super form, using his instrument to color the overall sound with intense drive and subtle accents when needed. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.  

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