Joe McPhee – Paul Hession

A Parallax View

A 50th birthday gift to himself, in 2003 Leeds-based percussionist Paul Hession celebrated by inviting American soprano and tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee to England for duo concerts. The notable results, reproduced here, show that rather than hogging the figurative spotlight the birthday boy gave the mercurial reed man almost disproportionate prominence.

Not that McPhee doesn’t deserve it. Now 68, the saxophonist’s playing amalgamates Mainstream tradition, go-for-broke Free Jazz and the extended techniques of Free Music into an incomparable package. On these Leeds and Liverpool dates with the nimbly inventive Hession – who also works many sides of the Improv/Jazz divide – both men communicate their superior talents.

The most evocative testimony to this occurs on “Evocation”. Following an a cappella exposition on soprano saxophone that in nasality and muted transience evokes the ephemeral boundaries of atonality, Hession’s extended solo of cymbal sputtering plus shuddering snare accents, evokes another McPhee persona on tenor saxophone. Staring with a legato, Swing Era obbligato, the drummer’s now parade ground rat-tat-tats reinforce the reedist’s harsh, guttural yowls, allowing McPhee to conjure up the spirit of Albert Ayler with wide vibrato flourishes that reference “Ghosts”, “La Marseillaise” and other Ayler favorites. In a little more than 14½ minutes the duo accesses more than three generations of improvised music.

“Blue Coat, Blue Collar”. McPhee’s solo tenor feature is even more spectacular. Declaring that “our music comes from people not tape machines”, he alternates tangy and mellow tones, chirping and whistling like a Turkish mizmar at one point; blowing colored air through his horn at another; expelling melodious Coleman Hawkins-like harmonies in-between.

Altruistic, Hession’s celebration confers sonic presents on us all.

Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 333