Daunik Lazro/Joe McPhee

The Cerkno Concert Music for Legendary Heroes
Klopotec IZK CD 044

Joe McPhee


Cipsela CIP005

Dedicated to creativity, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee is like the Little Engine that Could – if you imagine that classic tale of hard works and optimism transported to the realm of improvised music. As intent on pursuing his own path as any visionary, the brass-reed specialist has done so since the mid-1960s and shows no sign of slowing down. As secure in his ideas as Do0nald Trump is in his pomposity, McPhee produced these compelling programs when he was 70 (Flowers) and 76 (The Cerkno Concert) with no sign of technical or idea slackening. The first CD, recorded in Coimbra, Portugal, is an object lesson in how to maintain audience support during a solo alto saxophone recital. The other, also recorded live, but in Cerkno, Slovenia, matches McPhee’s alto saxophone and pocket trumpet with the tonal undertaking from French tenor and baritone saxophonist Daunik Lazro. Lazro, whose story of uncompromising individualism and restricted cult acceptance, could be the Gallic filmic remake of McPhee’s version original. Like fraternal organization members from far away who recognize similar convictions in one another, they’ve collaborated since the early 1990s.

One of the touchstones of McPhee’s career has been his admiration for Ornette Coleman’s musical advances and that remains constant. On Flowers he relates a telling anecdote about first hearing Coleman, following his playing of a moving version of Coleman’s “Old Eyes.” The Cerkno Concert’s climax is “Remembering Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler (In a caravan of dreams given form)”. It’s a paradigm that combines defiance and dirge as the broken octave salute revolves around emphasized baritone chalumeau from Lazro and McPhee quoting Ayler’s “Ghosts”. Elsewhere, like contents of a collector’s home which is unexpectedly opened to display the surrealistic art within, most of the duo’s strategies revolve around the most astringent of textures. Ripened, fungal-like tones bubble from Lazro’s baritone which evolves alongside canine yelps and caws from McPhee’s pocket trumpet, creating suspended animation on some tracks. Others such as “Voices for Alto and Tenor” contrast elephant-like trumpeting and the thinnest trace of air dripping from a horn that tightly layer into multi colors before the finale. Lazro’s deadpan continuum stabilizes many tracks and the two never lose track of Jazz’s basics. Besides crying vibrations on “Pocket trumpet and Barisax” there are intimations that a snatch of “Ol’ Man River” sneaks into Lazro’s output. And on “Barisax, Altosax and Voice”, answering the baritone saxophonist’s arrhythmic rumbles which suggest sailors marching to a drunkenly reconstituted sea shanty, McPhee unfurls swirling melodiousness as if he’s a New Thing Johnny Hodges.

More toned down, “Eight Street and Avenue C”, Flowers’ first track, begins with the faint sound of whooshes before broadening to include high-pitched whistles and vocalized cries mixed with sudden upwards twinges. It’s as if McPhee is letting pure emotion flow through his horn, until following triple-tonguing, the narrative settles into synced smoothness. That’s pretty much like most of the performance strategy here. Like a daredevil who wants to excite his audience, but assure them neither he nor they are in any danger, the saxophonist devotes most of each section to probing extended techniques from his horn. But like a mountain climber moored to a safety harness, he always brings the improvisations back to comfortable atmosphere by the end. He moves from macro crying ejaculations to micro air wisps on “Flowers (For John Tchicai)” for instance. Yet on “Third Circle (For Anthony Braxton)” he follows a reverse strategy, winding body tube blares and reed echoes into a solid sonata of note variations and repetitions until it appears as if his saxophone sounds have ruptured and are playing hide-and-seek with one another.

Like a visual artist who realizes pencil sketches, paintings and sculpture with the same proficiency, McPhee builds a poignant, almost romantic melody out of pressurized yelps and harsh sound shards, and then slices it down distinctive whistles on “The Whistler (For Mark Whitecage)”. With the same skill he constructs a finale on “The Night Bird's Call (For Julius Hemphill)” from tongue slapping and popping key percussion.

Evidentially the cliché about “not getting older, but better” applies to McPhee without argument.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Flowers: 1. Eight Street and Avenue C (For Alton Pickens) 2.Old Eyes (For Ornette Coleman) 3. Knox (For Niklaus Troxler) 4. Flowers (For John Tchicai) 5. The Whistler (For Mark Whitecage) 6. Third Circle (For Anthony Braxton) 7. The Night Bird's Call (For Julius Hemphill)


Personnel: Joe McPhee (alto saxophone)

Track Listing: Cerkno: 1. Pocket trumpet and Barisax 2. Altosax and Barisax 3. Barisax, Altosax and Voice 4. Voices for Alto and Tenor 5. Tenorsax and Pocket Trumpet 6. Pocket Trumpet, Voice and Barisax 7. Remembering Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler (In a caravan of dreams given form)

Personnel: Cerkno: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, alto saxophone and voice) and Daunik Lazro (tenor and baritone saxophones)