Friday, 1 May 2009

Charles McPherson...

Lots happening this week, so much in fact that I almost forgot the Charles McPherson post. Of course he isn't Scottish, but somewhere in the distant past there's clearly a murky and probably shameful connection. We're off to Scotland for a few days to take in a couple of gigs (reviews to appear later) and some civilised surroundings.

McPherson used to be a regular visitor to the UK and I saw him two or three times with below par pick up bands. Put him in the right company though - as he is here - and he's a different beast.

More on the ICP Orchestra and John Abercrombie next week. Abercrombie - could that be Scottish too...?

Live At The Cellar

Spring Is Here; Illusions In Blue; Blue And Boogie; How Deep Is The Ocean; Manhattan Nocturne; Star Eyes.

Charles McPherson (as); Ross Taggart (p); Jodi Proznick (b); Blaine Wikjord (d).
Recorded July 2002.

It’s impossible to speak of Charles McPherson without at some point making reference to his guiding light, Charlie Parker. A significant association with Charles Mingus would normally be sufficient talking point, but with McPherson everything always seems somehow to get back to Bird. This superb live date recorded at Vancouver’s Cellar Restaurant & Jazz Club on a hot summer night in 2002 strongly suggest that the saxophonist has more to offer than a handful of respectfully memorised and technically daunting licks.

Although aged 63 at the time of the gig, the energy and tangible emotional drive of McPherson’s soloing make an instant impression – the torrents of sweat he reportedly shed on the bandstand will have to be taken on the booklet writer’s word. I’ve seen McPherson play on a number of occasions and know that the make-up of pick-up group can make or break the gig. On an uninspiring night, Parker is the most readily available fallback. A more capable group brings with it the confidence to stretch out and express something more personal, exactly what we find happening here.

Pianist Ross Taggart, who also plays saxophone, seems particularly sensitive to McPherson’s needs, and the collective sound of the trio is more Tyner-Garrison-Jones than anything from Parker’s lifetime. Take McPherson’s composition ‘Illusions In Blue’, for example, a modal waltz where time and harmony are pushed well beyond the customary parameters of bebop. ‘Star Eyes’ may begin with the familiar vamp, but once the theme is dispensed with there is a stridency and angularity to McPherson’ playing that speaks of something far more contemporary than Parker’s controlled approach.

‘Spring Is Here’ and ‘Blue & Boogie’ are both taken at a blistering pace, surely the moments where those rivulets of sweat reached their peak. ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’ reveals a sensitive balladeer, and ‘Manhattan Nocturne’, another McPherson original, is a pleasing contemporary ballad with a noticeable bossa lilt.

I won’t pretend for a moment that he has shed Parker’s influence, but the quality of this band pushes McPherson to reveal a far more individual side than most listeners will have heard hitherto. As convincing a statement of the living spirit of jazz as you’ll hear all year, and conclusive proof that he is also the worthy keeper of a mighty flame.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, April 2005)

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