January 25, 2001
JOE MCPHEE/HAMID DRAKE
Okka Disk OD 12036
Recorded in front of an enthusiastic Chicago crowd two years ago, this CD is an object lesson in how to create an effective program of free music.
Of course it helps that the participants are two of the most accomplished players in that idiom. There's Hamid Drake, MVP (most valuable percussionist) for everyone from bassist William Parker to saxophonists Fred Anderson and Peter Brötzmann; and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, who over the past three decades has turned out an impressive body of work while remaining true to his own vision.
One of the first Americans to forge lasting links with sympathetic European improvisers, McPhee is probably the only musicians who excited others to such an extent that two different record companies — CJR and HatHut — were initially created to release his work. The pride of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is self-effacing enough in both his trumpet and tenor saxophone work. Yet deep listening to the shape of his solos on tracks like "Mother Africa" pinpoints the enthralling qualities within the music. His work suggests as much as it expresses, never hammering a point when a pinprick will do. Yet he doesn't shrink from volume if it's needed.
Furthermore, his sound is certainly wedded to the music's roots; no matter how far out he might seem to some. In another time and place, his solo saxophone encore, "Hate Crime Cries", could be pure rural blues, as McPhee forces cries as anguished as a Delta songster's story through reed and metal. Earlier, his hushed version of Billie Holiday's signature tune, "God Bless the Child", subtlety backed by Drake's brushes, proves that something heartfelt and romantic can be created without resorting to syrup. Immediately afterwards, on the title track, he unleashes a molten sound-slab of tenor energy as intense as anything heard in Free Jazz's 1960s heyday.
No basher, Windy City homeboy Drake scatters his accents with the precision of a surgeon performing a biopsy. In fact, the difference between his precise drum accompaniment to the tenor madness of "Emancipation Proclamation" and dry cymbal and snare tap dance he uses to amplify McPhee's pinched, breathy trumpet on "Mother Africa" is merely one of volume.
By the CD's end, the listener will likely be as enthused as the Midwestern audience.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Crises and Whispers 2. Mother Africa 3. God Bless the Child 4. Emancipation Proclamation 5. Hate Crime Cries
Personnel: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone); Hamid Drake (drums, percussion)