Joe McPhee – Sonic Elements (CF 278)
Trespass Trio + Joe McPhee – Human Encore (CF 269)
At the age of 73, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee shows no signs of slowing down. Since his re-emergence to full-time recording in the mid ‘90s, he has jumped from project to project with little respite.
Even though McPhee began on trumpet, the saxophone is the instrument with which most people associate him. He primarily plays tenor but has increasingly made his mark on alto. Sonic Elements is alive set from the 2012 Ljubljana Festival, half played on pocket trumpet and dedicated to Don Cherry and the other on alto, celebrating Ornette Coleman. McPhee’s trumpet is all about breath and squeezing unheard sounds out of the instrument. He employs subtle valve pops, siren-like squeaks and vocalization within a wide dynamic range. Bill Dixon is a prime influence but the spectre of Cherry can also be heard in his bright and feathery upper register lines. On alto, McPhee employs the rich, full sound he brings to his tenor. Towards the end of the Coleman set McPhee plays his classic tune “Old Eyes”, a song he wrote in the late ‘70s and dedicated to Coleman (who gave McPhee a trumpet when the younger player was coming up).
McPhee is a consummate collaborator. He has always added his individuality to groups from Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet to Other Dimensions In Music. Saxophonist Martin Küchen tapped McPhee as a foil on the Trespass Trio’s third album, Human Encore, recorded in 2012 at a concert in Coimbra, Portugal. Küchen’s rough-hewn sound (on alto and baritone) contrasts nicely with McPhee’s stately tenor. When McPhee switches to pocket trumpet, their intertwining is even more pronounced. On the ballad “Xe” Küchen states the melody as McPhee etches a contrapuntal line, then the situation reverses. Bassist Per Zanussi and drummer Raymond Strid (both veterans of the Swedish improvising scene) give the music a wide rhythmic berth and colorful backdrop. The title track has some exceptional four-way interaction, as if McPhee had always been a member of the group.