The catalogue that has been building up of Joe McPhee's music is becoming gargantuan, with numerous new releases every year, as the master improviser appears on recording of his own projects or a myriad of releases by younger musicians who bring McPhee on board. Then there are re-issues that are appearing at a steady rate as well. This is all good for fans of this creative musician, and this album is a case in point.
This is a recording of a 1975 concert originally released in 1976, the second release on the Swiss Hat Hut label, which, as many readers probably know, was initially set up to record McPhee's remarkable, inventive and soulful music. Here it is released on the Corbett VS Dempsey imprint. It features McPhee on tenor and soprano saxophone, John Snyder on synthesizer and voice, and Makaya Ntshoko on drums. Four of the original tracks, mostly long pieces, (with a bonus piece — McPhee's 10 minute-plus tenor solo take on "Billie Holiday's God Bless the Child"), are crackling with energy, as in the Albert Ayler-like melodies and phrases and shrieks and shouts of the opening track, "Touchstone," which features a long segment of frenzied tenor sax and rollicking drums that drops then builds to a thunderous display, punctuated by the horn.
The use of the synthesizer was quite prescient and the electronic instrument creates textures that contrast starkly with the dense woodiness and rich acoustic overtones of McPhee's horn, as in the opening strains of "Voices" which lay down a peaceful, Gregorian-chant-meets-didgeridoo-like drone and grows out of a soprano-synth duo into a bursting-at-the-seams explosion of creative energy as drummer Ntshoko joins the fray. "Baliamian Folksong" at 16:20 is the longest track on the set and features John Snyder's synth in dazzling permutations through looping logarithmic cadences and bursts of electric color.
This music sounds fresh, as if it was recorded yesterday rather than over 40 years ago. McPhee already had a mature style and consistent concept back then, and what he plays on this album is as sinewy and raw as it still is today.
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