JOE MCPHEE

Remembrance
CJR-5

“We pretty much play whatever we want to play ... and you can call it whatever you want,” declares multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, before he and two cohorts launch into “Remembrance (closing) for Steve Lacy”, which winds up the notable series of improvisations on this CD.

A succinct definition of Free Music, serendipitously the statement also sums up the circumstances of this October 2001 gig in Seattle. Affected by post 9-11 nerves saxophonist Charles Gayle cancelled a scheduled duo performance with bassist Mike Bisio. The last minute solution was adding the bassist to the already touring duo of McPhee, who had often performed with Bisio, and French guitarist Raymond Boni, a musical partner of the reedist for about 25 years. Not only did the three meld into one unit, but one track also involves Boni in an unrehearsed duet with Seattle poet Paul Harding.

Harding, an unreconstructed Beat with a heavy Brooklyn accent, singsongs his way through his own “This Is Where I Live”. It’s a poem replete with pop culture references and lists of Black Music heroes, is interesting rather than profound, and doesn’t detract from the inspired instrumental music on the other tracks.

“Remembrance (closing) for Steve Lacy”, takes its dedication to the then dying saxophonist, and midway into the piece McPhee on soprano feeds fragments of “Blue Monk”, written by one of Lacy’s major influences, into the musical mix. McPhee’s sound magnetism is such – and his improvisation so one of a piece – that you don’t realize that he’s switched to the reed from pocket trumpet until the first choruses have sounded. From then on he carries on with slurry reed spits, split tone patterns and expansive cries that range from shrills to honks and seem to be hollowing out the insides of the horn.

Steady strumming from Boni and solid walking from Bisio are the responses. But earlier, as McPhee sparks fortissimo and discordant brass notes, the guitarist displays concentrated chromatic patterns, until the trumpet’s sinuous melody is matched with flowing chromatic finger picking.

This more-than-16-minute instant composition is a perfect postlude to the almost 23 minute “Remembrance (opening)”. Thick with a patina of peril and anticipation, the exposition evolves into contrapuntal cross strumming from Boni and meditative soprano saxophone vibrations from McPhee. But it’s first defined by a strained timbre that eventually resolves itself as a sul ponticello line from Bisio. Exhibiting commanding rasgueado, the guitarist falls back for the bassist’s arco expanded tones as the reed texture shreds into curlicue slurs and atonal trills and squeaks.

Moving to a keening, scraped metallic tone, which seems to take as much from the ligature and the mouthpiece as from the reed, McPhee separate the nodes into Aylerian bites as ringing finger patterns echo from both string players. Penultimate development features snapping single-string action from Boni as McPhee unveils a fresh counter theme on trilly pocket trumpet, that’s part Andalusian and part Don Cherry, eventually concluding with ney-like rubato glisses from the soprano.

On the evidence of this CD, “… call it whatever you want” must also mean that unplanned accidents can also create great music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Remembrance (opening) 2. This Is Where I Live 3. In The End There Is Piece 4. Remembrance (closing) for Steve Lacy

Personnel: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet and soprano saxophone); Raymond Boni (guitar); Michael Bisio (bass); Paul Harding (spoken music)