The last concert I ever promoted was one of the best, and something of an ambition realised. A rare UK appearance by Joe McPhee, legendary multi-instrumentalist and 'ideas man'.
He comfortably straddles avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, and for a time took an interesting direction in semi-composed ensemble music, which he called Po Music (follow the link to McPhee's fascinating explanation...).
The gig was a duo with UK drummer Paul Hession, and the music was classic free-jazz in the style of Coltrane's 'Interstellar Space' duos with Rashied Ali. McPhee was as open and approachable as any musician I ever met, and all in all it was a good way to sign off as a promoter. Just a shame so few were there to witness it, but it was ever thus...
DOMINIC DUVAL/JOHN HEWARD/JOE McPHEE
LEO RECORDS (LR 363)
Undersound 11; Undersound 12; Undersound 13; Undersound 14.
Joe McPhee (ts, ss); Dominic Duval (b); John Heward (d); Malcolm Goldstein (vn) on 3.
Recorded December 2000
Joe McPhee has expanded and refined his approach to music considerable since his debut recording in 1967. That he not better known is partly due to the continued under-appreciation of the contributions of the free-jazz pioneers to the wider jazz continuum. It is also, I suspect, partially a result of McPhee’s own embrace of forms of musical expression from outside of the genre that have sometimes confused his message. Whilst Undersound I was a fairly arid chamber-improv set, no such charges could be levelled at the follow-up. He explodes out of the traps with an Ayler-esque tour de force spanning 26 intense minutes, wave upon wave of energy being unleashed by the trio.
Dominc Duval will be well known to followers of both improv and free-jazz via his work with practically every significant artist in the two genres. Heward has a less prominent profile, and his perhaps better known in the field of visual arts, though he recorded some fine work with the late Glenn Spearman. Malcolm Goldstein, an improvising violinist of steadily growing repute, makes a cameo appearance on ‘Undersound 13’ for what is a mercifully brief return to the micro-sounds explored in greater depth on the earlier recording. The piece does however provide a neat segue into the rousing version of Dvorak’s ‘Going Home’ which assumes a hymnal quality and brings out McPhee’s deep roots in Coltrane and Ayler.
Although his brass work is not represented, a passage played on tenor saxophone 15 minutes into ‘Undersound 11’ perfectly illustrates that whichever instrument McPhee picks up, the sounds and timbral range are always remarkably consistent. Trio X may offer more to those interested in McPhee’s free-jazz strain, but as an introduction to the breadth of his artistic scope, Undersound II makes a good portal for the uninitiated.
(Jazz Review, May 2003).