Friday, January 31, 2014

Joe McPhee, Sonic Elements, for Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone

Joe McPhee has become a kind of legend for his very productive career making great improvised music under his own name and with Trio X. He is one of the very few (Bennie Carter being the first?) that can hold his own on both trumpet and saxophone. But the point of interest is of course what he plays on the instruments, not just that he plays both well.

He does not record as unaccompanied soloist with any frequency, excepting spaces here and there within ensemble contexts, so an entire solo album is welcome. We have just that in Sonic Elements (Clean Feed 278) and I have been listening closely.

It's comprised of two segments, each lasting around 20 minutes. The first is for pocket trumpet, the second for alto sax. "Episode One" is for Don Cherry, "Episode Two" for Ornette Coleman.

That makes sense of course since Maestro McPhee comes out of a modern improvisational lineage that recognizes both as important "ancestors", so to speak. And anyone who listens to the new jazz with any seriousness knows the importance of the two artists to what follows.

McPhee combines an absorbed attention to the sound element of both instruments for some invigorating abstractions but he also makes both instruments "sing" in song-like ways, and that is part of the McPhee approach in general so it should not surprise us.

Nonetheless he comes across here as very focused, very committed, and very much worth hearing. This is music minus nothing. Joe McPhee is the complete artist.


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