Jazzword review by Ken Waxman

CF 278Joe McPhee – Sonic Elements (CF 278)
While solo sessions have multiplied over the past few years, one person who was experimenting with the singular form as long ago as 1976 is multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. Sonic Elements Clean Feed CF 278 CD is his most recent set in that genre. Demonstrating the breath of his skill, he divides this 41-minute live set in half, improvising on pocket trumpet in honor of Don Cherry at the beginning, and concluding with a salute to Ornette Coleman on alto saxophone. That said McPhee doesn’t replicate any Coleman or Cherry licks during the performance. Instead he creates distinctive sound picture of each individual. With “Wind-Water” McPhee’s Cherry snapshot is built up from plain air pops, watery growls and spiraling grace notes. When the output swerves into tonality a mellow melody appears only to be deconstructed with staccato guffaws, sharp whistles and vocal murmurs. An extended final sequence is balanced with vocal cries and whispers that help illuminate the dedicatee’s heartfelt struggle for peace. Meanwhile, if anything “Earth/Fire-Old Eyes” proves that Coleman’s purported wild experimentation is based on the bedrock of jazz: blues and work songs. Using maximum emotionalism and minimal notes here, the saxophonist’s initial tongue slaps and altissimo cries give way to a sequence which includes foot-stomping percussiveness and a theme that could practically be a pre-Emancipation song of celebration. As the countrified line is hardened, tremolo echoes, reminiscent of primitive bagpipe or concertina airs confirm this connection. The climax occurs as sharp, staccato interjections and the composition’s sweet, yearning textures become one and the same.

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