Joe McPhee

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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Miami-born trumpeter and saxophonist Joe McPhee (1939) did not have any major experience before he started rocking the "loft scene" of New York. A quartet comprising McPhee (on tenor saxophone, trumpet, pocket cornet, alto horn), Reggie Marks (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, organ), Tyrone Crabb (bass) and Ernist Bostic (vibraphone, drums, percussion) recorded Underground Railroad (april 1969), particularly the 23-minute Underground Railroad, a spectacular display of collective free improvisation that was frantic and spirited.

Solo collects solo recordings from 1968 to 1973.

John Coltrane's influence was more evident on the live Nation Time (december 1970), recorded with equal enthusiasm by an unusual quintet of piano, bass, two percussionists and McPhee on trumpet, soprano sax and tenor sax (the 18-minute Nation Time) that was expanded to an octet with propulsive alto saxophone, electric guitar and organ for the explosive, funky 13-minute Shakey Jake. McPhee was one step away from the funk-jazz-rock revolution. Black Magic Man (same concert) showed his more orthodox free-jazz side, especially in the 17-minute Hymn of the Dragon Kings, influenced by Cecil Taylor, as did the acrobatic 28-minute Ionization and the funky and bluesy Delta on Trinity (november 1971), that debuted his bass-less trio with piano and drums.

McPhee's intimate, lyrical, multiphonic and polychromatic language at the various instruments was crystallized on the solo album The Willisau Concert (october 1975), that contained Baliamian Folksong, Touchstone and Voices. It was followed by several more solo improvisations: Rotation (september 1976), Tenor And Fallen Angels (october 1977), the double-LP Graphics (june 1977), perhaps the most powerful expression of his eclectic ego (the 12-minute Graphics 3/4, the 15-minute Legendary Heroes, the 14-minute Anamorphosis, the eleven-minute Trumpet), Variations on a Blue Line (october 1977), Glasses (october 1977).

However, McPhee had been preparing to abandon the language of John Coltrane for something more futuristic. The pioneering duets between his horns (trumpet, flugel-horn, e-flat alto horn, pocket cornet, tenor saxophone, flute, modified nagoya harp, ceramic wind chimes, bird chimes, bamboo wind chimes, voice) and John Snyder's synthesizer (notably the 23-minute Windows in Dreams/ Colors in Crystal) on Pieces Of Light (april 1974) found a place for electronic music in jazz improvisation. The atonal sax-piano-guitar trio of MFG in Minnesota (june 1978) evoked the creative noise of Derek Bailey. Old Eyes and Mysteries (may 1979), including the four-movement Women's Mysteries, Topology (march 1981), including the 28-minute reed duet Topology, and Oleo (august 1982), including Pablo for two reeds, bass and guitar, adapted philosopher Edward DeBono's strategy of "lateral thinking" to jazz improvisation (or "po music"), which in practice meant a calmer, deeper exploration of sound. More "po music" surfaced on A Future Retrospective (may 1987) and Linear B (january 1990). Pauline Oliveros' "deep listening" music became a major influence on Common Threads (october 1995), mostly taken up by the 47-minute Spirit Traveler (dedicated to Don Cherry) for a quintet with avantgarde composer Stuart Dempster on trombone and didgeridoo, Evynd Kang on violin, bass and cello. In that vein McPhee composed Unquenchable Fire (premiered in august 1997).

Live From The Magic City (april 1985) documents a live performance with French guitarist Raymond Boni, notably the 35-minute Set 1.

Sweet Freedom Now What (july 1994) was a tribute of sorts to Max Roach's masterpiece

Less interesting was his return to free improvisation, enacted via a myriad of recordings: the trio with reed player Ken Vandermark and bassist Kent Kessler of Meeting In Chicago (february 1996), the solo improvisations of As Serious As Your Life (may 1996), the duets with flutist Jerome Bourdellon of Novio Iolu: Music for a New Place (may 1995) and Manhattan Tango (april 2000), the duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop of Brass City (october 1997), the duets with bassist Dominic Duval of The Dream Book (august 1998) and Rules of Engagement, Volume 2 (january 2004), the duets with tenor saxophonist Evan Parker of Chicago Tenor Duets (may 1998), the duets with bassist Michael Bisio of Zebulon (july 1998), the duets with drummer Johnny McLellan of Grand Marquis (august 1999), the duets with percussionist Hamid Drake of Emancipation Proclamation (june 1999), the live solos of Everything Happens for a Reason (november 2003), and assorted combo performances such as Abstract (october 2000), Remembrance (october 2001) and Mr Peabody Goes to Baltimore (september 2000).

McPhee mainly formed the Bluette Quartet with microtonal reed player Joe Giardullo and two bassists (Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval). After In the Spirit (march 1999), a tribute to spirituals, and No Greater Love (same session), with Strangers In A Strange Land, they excelled at the postmodern melodic exercise of the suite Let Paul Robeson Sing (september 2001), structured in four "episodes": the 21-minute Harlem Spiritual, the 15-minute Peekskill 1949 in three movements, the eleven-minute For Paul, the ten minute Water Boy/ Deep River/ Ol' Man River.

The same free-melodic concept was explored by the Trio X, formed by McPhee with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen, with more elegiac overtones although at times quite self-indulgent: the four-movement Watermelon Suite on Watermelon Suite (may 1998), the 47-minute Lift Every Voice and Sing on the live Rapture (december 1998), the 17-minute Sida's Song on the live In Black And White (june 2001), Journey and Autograph on Journey (february 2003), the 17-minute The Sugar Hill Suite on The Sugar Hill Suite (october 2004), Burning Wood on Moods Playing with the Elements (october 2004), etc.

Shadow & Light was a quartet with Joe Giardullo, Michael Bisio and Tani Tabbal that recorded Now Is (october 20O2).

Guts (august 2005) was a collaboration among Joe McPhee on trumpet and saxophones, Peter Broetzmann on saxophones, Kent Kessler on double bass and Michael Zerang on drums: the 17-minute Guts and the 41-minute Rising spirits

Soprano (september 1998) documents a live performance.

Peter Kowald (bass), Joe McPhee and Mark Whitecage (both on reeds), Paul Smoker (trumpet), David Prentice (violin), Dominic Duval (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums) recorded CIMPhonia 1998 (may 1998).

After  Volumes 1 and 2 of American Landscapes, that collect two long tracks recorded live in 2006, where Joe, on trumpet and alto sax, gathered a notable ensemble (Peter Brötzmann on clarinet and alto sax, Mats Gustafsson on baritone sax, Ken Vandermark on clarinet and tenor sax, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, William Parker on bass, Paal Nilsse-Love and Michael Zerang on drums, among others), McPhee released the solo live album Alto (2009) on which he plays alto and tenor sax and alto clarinet.

Intimate Conversations (november 2006) and Magic (november 2007) were collaborations with saxophonist Mikolaj Trzaska and a drummer.

The Survival Unit II of At WBAI's Free Music Store (october 1971) consisted of saxophonist Byron Morris, pianist Mike Kull, percussionist Harold Smith and Clifford Thorton on baritone horn performing McPhee's compositions including Black Magic Man.

Oto (december 2009) documents a collaboration with British trio Decoy (Alexander Hawkins on Hammond B3 organ, John Edwards on double bass and Steve Noble on drums).

Angels, Devils & Saints (may 2000) featured four bassists and includes the 56-minute Angels, Devils & Saints

Blue Chicago Blues (2007) documents a duet with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten.

Sound On Sound collects McPhee's experiments from 1968, 1969, 1970 & 1973 on tenor & soprano sax, flute, space organ, kalimba, toy piano & percussion, feedback & echoplex.

The double-disc Black Is The Color collects a concert (october 1969) with Tyrone Crabb (bass), Ernest Bostic (vibes) and Bruce Thompson (drums) and two concerts (january 1969 and may 1970) with Mike Kull (piano), Tyrone Crabb (electric bass), Chico Hawkins (drums) and Octavius Graham (vocals).

The double-disc Live At Vassar 1970 features the Joe McPhee Quintet: Joe McPhee (tenor sax); Byron Morris (alto sax); Mike Kull (piano); Tyrone Crabb (electric bass); Bruce Thompson (drums); and the Ernie Bostic Quartet on the second: Ernie Bostic (vibraphone), Otis Greene (alto sax), Herbie Leaman (Hammond B3), Charlie Benjamin (drums).

Nuclear Family (december 1979), a collaboration with Andre Jaume on alto & tenor saxes & bass clarinet, was released only in 2016.

Brace For Impact (december 2007) documents duets between Joe McPhee (alto sax and trumpet) and Mats Gustafsson (on sax, flute and live electronics).

Syncronicity (recorded in 2007), Game Theory (october 2010) and Barrow Street Blues (november 2004) document live performances by the Survival Unit III: Joe McPhee (alto sax and pocket trumpet), Fred Lonberg-Holm ( cello and electronics) and Michael Zerang (percussion).

Joe McPhee (tenor & soprano saxes, pocket trumpet) and Chris Corsano (drums) collaborated on Under A Double Moon (march 2010) and Scraps And Shadows (may 2011).

Lark Uprising (july 2009), a tribute of sorts to Polish Jewish music, is a live recording of Joe McPhee's IRCHA clarinet quintet (McPhee is on alto, Mikolaj Trzaska on alto and bass, Waclaw Zimpel on bass clarinet, clarinet and toragato, Pawel Szamburski on clarinet and bass clarinet, Michal Górczynski on bass clarinet).

Creole Gardens (september 2009) documents a collaboration between Joe McPhee (here on alto sax and pocket trumpet) and drummer Michael Zerang, notably the 24-minute Congo Square Dances/Saints and Sinners.

Ibsen's Ghosts (febraury 2009) featured Jeb Bishop (trombone), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass), and Michael Zerang (drums).

Joe McPhee and double bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten collaborated on Brooklyn DNA (july 2011).

Vandermark's Topology Nonet debuted with Impressions of PO Music (june 2011), an album of old McPhee compositions: Joe McPhee (tenor sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone), Josh Berman (cornet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Tim Daisy (drums), Kent Kessler (bass), Dave Rempis (saxes) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics).

Sonic Elements (june 2012) collects two lengthy solo improvisations for pocket trumpet and alto sax.

Babylon (march 2014) documents a collaboration between Joe McPhee and the Turkish group Konstrukt: four extended pieces that mix Turkish folk music, raga, free jazz, and electronics.

Joe McPhee's Solos - The Lost Tapes (Roaratorio, 2015) collects unreleased tapes.

Skullduggery (june 2014) documents a collaboration with Universal Indians, a trio consisting of John Dikeman (saxes), Jon Rune Strom (double bass) and Tollef Ostvang (drums).

The seven-disc box-set Candy (PNL, 2015) documents 2007-2014 live duets with percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love.

McPhee played on This Is Our Language (december 2012) with Rodrigo Amado on Portuguese tenorist, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Chris Corsano.

McPhee collaborated with Turkish group Konstrukt, i.e. Korhan Futaci (tenor sax, theremin Moog), Umut Caglar (electric guitar, synthesizer, organ), Ozun Usta (double bass) and Korhan Arguden (drums). on Babylon, (march 2014) and If You Have Time (may 2014) recorded two months before.

Soul Stream (january 2013) featured Paal Nilssen-Love, Yagi Michiyo (electric 21-string & 17-string bass kotos), and Lasse Marhaug (electronics).

Bricktop (june 2015) documents live duets with double bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten.

Quod (march 2010) documents a trio with Jean-Marc Foussat (synthesizer, voice) and Sylvain Guerineau (tenor sax).

Six Situations ( september 2016) documents a live performance with Damon Smith (double bass) and Alvin Fielder (drums), notably the 19-minute The Diagonal Of Personal Excstasy and the 24-minute Red & Green Alternatives.

My Undocumented Alien Clarinet (august 2006) documents an improvised duet between Joe McPhee on clarinets and synthesizers and Bryan Eubanks on electronics.

Seattle Symphony (august 2010) is actually a solo performance.

At The Hill Of James Magee (april 2010) documents duets between Joe McPhee (alto sax) and John Butcher (tenor sax).

Imaginary Numbers (december 2015) documents a session with Pascal Niggenkemper (double bass) and Stale Liavik Solberg (drums, percussion).

Plan B consisted of McPhee, James Keepnews on guitar and laptop and David Berger on drums, and released From Outer Space (december 2015).

The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet consists of Joe McPhee (tenor sax and valve trombone), Daunik Lazro (baritone and tenor saxes), Jean-Marc Foussat (analogue synthesizer and voice) and Makoto Sato (drums). Their first album was the live Sweet Oranges (july 2017), containing just one 44-minute improvisation.

Journey To Parazzar (september 2017) documents a trio with John Edwards (double bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums) and contains the 29-minute Re-Hairing In Zaporozhye and the 19-minute To Rush At The Wind.

A History Of Nothing (march 2017) documents a quartet with Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Kent Kessler (double bass) and Chris Corsano (drums).

Keep Going (february 2018) documents a collaboration with drummer Hamid Drake.

The six-disc box-set The Fire Each Time (december 2017) documents a collaboration between Joe McPhee and DKV, aka Ken Vandermark (reeds), Kent Kessler (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums).

A Pride Of Lions (january 2016) documents improvisations with Joshua Abrams (double bass and guimbri), Chad Taylor (drums and mbira), Daunik Lazro (baritone and tenor saxes) and Guillaume Seguron (double bass).

A Night In Alchemia (october 2018) featured John Edwards (double bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums) and contained the 23-minute At The Waters Edge.

Tree Dancing (march 2010) documents a live performance by the stellar quartet of saxophonists Lol Coxhill, Joe McPhee and Evan Parker and drummer Chris Corsano.

Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love recorded Lift Every Voice And Sing (december 2017).

Invitation To A Dream (september 2017) documents a session by Joe McPhee (soprano sax and pocket trumpet), Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and clarinet) and Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar).

Song For The Big Chief (december 2017) documents a live performance by Joe McPhee (tenor sax and pocket trumpet) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion).

No Time Left For Sadness (january 2019) reunited cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee, mainly for the 31-minute Next Time.

Arto Lindsay (guitar), Joe McPhee (alto and tenor saxes, pocket trumpet), Ken Vandermark (tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet) and Phil Sudderberg (drums) collaborated on Largest Afternoon (february 2019).

The two volumes of Of Things Beyond Thule (december 2018) documents the quintet of McPhee (pocket trumpet, tenor sax), Dave Rempis (alto and baritone saxes), Tomeka Reid (cello), Brandon Lopez (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums).

Harmonia Macrocosmia (august 2015) collects "electronic" duets with Lasse Marhaug.

Winter Garden (january 2020) documents a collaboration with the Flow Trio, i.e. Louie Belogenis (tenor and soprano saxes), Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums).

In 2018 Joe McPhee formed with Michael Marcus (tenor sax, bass clarinet & bass flute), Jay Rosen (drums & percussion) and Warren Smith (drums & vibes) the Blue Reality Quartet, first documented on Blue Reality Quartet (november 2020) and then on Ella's Island (february 2022).

The Mystery J (june 2014) consists of improvisations with classical violist Jennifer Clare Paulson and Brian Labycz on electronics.

The Sweet Spot (january 2021) documents a quartet with Michael Bisio (double bass), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Juma Sultan (percussion).

Joe McPhee on tenor & soprano saxes & voice, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Michael Bisio on contrabass and Juma Sultan on percussion recorded The Sweet Spot (january 2021).

McPhee played used also water, objects and field recordings, besides his sax and his voice, on the solo album Route 84 Quarantine Blues (october 2020).

The quintet A Pride of Lions, featuring Daunik Lazro (tenor & baritone saxes), Joshua Abrams (double bass, guembri), Guillaume Séguron (double bass) and Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), debuted with the live albums A Pride of Lions (january 2016) and No Questions No Answers (august 2018), containing the 34-minute An Unanswered Question.

Survival Unit III returned with the 40-minute five-part piece of The Art Of Flight - For Alvin Fielder (january 2018).

Sweet Nothings (april 2003) contains live duets between Joe McPhee (soprano and tenor saxes, pocket cornet) and Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxes).

Existential Moments (april 2019) documents a live performance by the trio of Joe McPhee (trumpet and tenor sax), John Edwards (double bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums), including the 41-minute improvisation Existential Moments.

Let Our Rejoicing Rise (june 2021) documents improvisations with cellist Tomeka Reid.

Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone (march 2019) documents improvisations between Joe McPhee (tenor sax and vocals) and John Edwards (double bass), notably the 22-minute Tell Me How Long Has Trane Been Gone.

The Knuffke-McPhee Quartet+1 of Keep The Dream Up (april 2022) consisted of McPhee (tenor sax and voice), Kirk Knuffke (cornet and voice), Christof Knoche (bass clarinet), Michael Bisio (bass) and Jay Rosen (drums).

Sometimes The Air Is (march 2022) documents improvisations with Steve Swell on trombone and Chris Corsano on drums and percussion.

Oblique Strategies (august 2018) documents a session with Mette Rasmussen on alto sax and Dennis Tyfus on tape, voice and percussion.

A quintet with Kirk Knuffke also on cornet, Christof Knoche on bass clarinet, Michael Bisio on contrabass and Jay Rosen on drums recorded Keep The Dream Up (april 2022), notably the 20-minute You See the Lights.

Musings Of A Bahamian Son (october 2021) contains 27 McPhee compositions/poems.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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