Thursday, March 25, 2010

Joe McPhee and His Quartet, 1996

New improvisational music, also known sometimes as free jazz, avant garde jazz, new thing, and perhaps a few more labels, has given us a body of recorded works that now spans a period of around 50 years. In the realm of public perception, even by those who follow the music, there can be recordings that don't get as much attention as they should. The CD by the Joe McPhee Quartet, Legend Street One (CIMP), certainly qualifies.

Joe McPhee today is a key member of Trio X, which you may have heard. He has been playing at a high level for many years, and this 1996 session is a very good example. It has an interesting lineup of Joe on alto, tenor, trumpet and fluegelhorn, the late Frank Lowe on tenor, David Prentice, violin, and the late Charles Moffett on drums. The session yielded two releases, of which this one is the first.

What strikes one for starters is the lack of a bass player. McPhee, Lowe and Prentice constitute three front-line solo voices and Moffett subsequently takes on the free rhythmic and coloristic role for which he was so well-suited. The lack of a bass is made up for by the additional front-line voice and the increased autonomy of the drums.

The session yields eight originals, all having a good deal of improvisational space for all concerned. The two-horn tandem of McPhee and Lowe are especially interesting on these sides, with the versatility of trumpet-tenor or double sax combinations. Both McPhee and Lowe turn in some stellar performances and David Prentice gives the team a needed contrast in his own creative solo work. Prentice's improvisation style owes something to both Ornette Coleman's and Leroy Jenkins' concepts of the instrument, which form a kind of foundation for the playing on this date. Of course Moffett could be expected to provide a classic time-in, time-out underpinning, and he does so here. Some of the most exhilarating moments occur when all four artists collectively solo. There is an exciting intensity and yet each player knows what he is about.

CIMP has amassed an impressive catalog of both well-known and lesser known improvising artists and their music over the years. Legend Street One was one of the first releases and it captures some of the very best free music of its time.

You can still get a copy of this one if you go to and look for the CIMP click-link.

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