April 24, 2001
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 214 CD
At this point in his career it's time to "out" Joe McPhee. It turns out that the cerebral multi-instrumentalist, best known for his pioneering compositional interactions with equally highbrow Europeans, had a past association with rough trade.
Well, maybe not rough trade so much, but as this CD demonstrates, rough edges. For in 1971, when this reissues was first waxed in a church parish hall, McPhee appeared to be screaming saxophonist, very much in the Pharoah Sanders mold, working out with bombastic drummer Harold E. Smith and sensitive pianist Mike Kull.
Clearest evidence for his New Thing personality comes forth on the almost 29 minute "Ionization", where like saxophonist Albert Ayler, he seems to take the horn out of his mouth every so often to let out a vocal scream. Heck, such is the ever-ascending intensity in the studio at that time that it's surprising more people weren't screaming; you may be tempted to do so at home.
Another lost talent, Kull surprisingly uses his solo space to go against the pure power emanating from Smith and McPhee. Concentrating on left-handed lines, he creates a fluent, well-balanced oasis of calm that gradually swells in intensity as time goes on. For a time it even leads the saxophonist towards a balladic "Forest Flower"-style gentleness. An evocative trumpet, a vocalized gospel-like cadenza, bells and some melismatic saxophone concludes the tune.
Peaceful "Astral Spirits" is a threnody for the then-recently deceased Ayler. Kull's resonating, decorative electric piano reflects Ayler's final work and Smith tries to operate at a lower sound level. Meanwhile McPhee tries to honor both Ayler brothers by playing pocket cornet —with trumpet overdubs — like Donald Ayler and soprano saxophone.
"Delta" is a brooding piece that gives off the feeling of the blues, without following a strict 12-bar format. Over a carpet of electric piano and drums, McPhee's muted trumpet and tenor saxophone tells the story in turn, drifting from harsh, staccato cries to relaxed, down-home tale spinning.
A fascinating glimpse McPhee's background that was formerly known by very few, TRINITY may shock his present fans. But it's certainly worth exploring if you want to take a trip on a 1970s time machine and/or admire the beginnings of the all-around musician he eventually became.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Ionization 2. Astral Spirits 3. Delta
Personnel: Joe McPhee (soprano and tenor saxophones, trumpet, pocket cornet); Mike Kull (piano, electric piano); Harold E. Smith (percussion)