Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joe McPhee's Bluette, Let Paul Robeson Sing, 2001

Joe McPhee has been coming into his own for so long, one might say that his outlook borders on continual transformation, continual variation. Good improvisation after all flourishes when players with great talent see fit to mix it up whenever they play.

Joe McPhee's Bluette serves as a good example. It did away with drums and conventional harmonic underpinning instruments in favor of a four-way double duo, so to speak. The Bluette has two dual centers if you ike, one around the "horn section" of McPhee on tenor, fluegel and alto clarinet, and Joe Giardullo on flute and bass clarinet. The second dual center brings in the two-member contrabass section of Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. The 2001 date Let Paul Robeson Sing (CIMP 257) turns the players loose on spiritual and folk themes associated with the great singer's career, original themes and motifs as well as free-form interactions that do not reference themes per se.

What's remarkable about this session and the group in general is the great wealth of possibilities it realizes: solos, duos of horns, duos of basses, trios of various combinations and of course the full quartet. In Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval one finds an ideal combination of pizz and bowed inspiration. These are two of the very best bassists playing today (and then) in an imaginative zone and they come through. Joe Giardullo has bass clarinet presence here and great flute color; Mr. McPhee of course has no shortage of ideas whatever instrument he may chose to play. His tenor work may identify him in many ways but his work on fluegel and trumpet gives him an alternate persona, and the alto clarinet provides yet another timbre to work out of. The great variety of sound combinations and permutations this ensemble comes up with in the course of the album gives one pause on occasion. It's more than a double duo or a bifurcated quartet. It's an improv kaleidoscope of color, thrust, repose and regrouping.

It is music that one should turn up a little louder than would be the case with commercially ultra-compressed recordings one finds out there. CIMP records sound best when the quietest parts are clearly audible to you in your listening space. Do that and you get the group's tremendous dynamic range, the deep resonance of the basses, the tumultuous power of the horns and the whispers of thoughtful contemplation.

This is an album that plays tribute to the powerful Robeson, his courage in the face of systemized oppression and his ultimate transcendence. The Bluette does not so much tell the story in some musical-literal sense as it uses melodic and expressive elements that capture the man and his times.

It is a marvelously invigorating musical statement. It demands long-term concentration without distraction. Listen several times in such conditions and you will begin to feel the totality of the music as it evolves and develops.

It's a set one must hear. It is a testiment to the generative creative openess and responsiveness of Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. Four exceptional musical minds caught in time, timelessly.

No comments:

Post a Comment