With Po Music, according to McPhee, the group concept centers on the process orientation of "po-," a linguistic prefix signifying possibility and change (Li Po, anyone?). Of course, McPhee has gone through a number of stylistic changes in his career, from high-energy free jazz to funk and R&B, to "deep listening" and chamber jazz outfits. "Po," then, was part of McPhee's lexicon long before the '82 recording of Oleo, but however the process of investigating the po ssibilities of creative music is engendered, there is a common thread running through it all.
Now expanded with the addition of live material, Oleo features McPhee's primary working vehicle of the early '80s, with Swiss reedman Andre Jaume and electric guitarist Raymond Boni, augmented here by French bassist Francois Mechali (who, with his brother, drummer Jean-Louis, comprised the rhythm team of choice on many classic French avant-garde recordings).
If "po" is derived from the concept of lateral thinking, it is safe to say that Po Music is derived from the idea of improvisation as a lateral process: rhythm as an all-over concept, music moving outward rather than upward with all elements equal in their contribution. Therefore, po equals collectivity. McPhee, Jaume (a bass clarinet heir to Dolphy) and Mechali are seamless, their long, sonorous lines flowing together on blues-drenched ballads, free-time elegies being where McPhee's efforts as a composer and improviser ring loudest. "Astral Spirits," a joyous hymn to the Ayler brothers, and "I Remember Clifford" (given the double reference to Clifford Thornton) are perfect examples of this, the former building and disassembling vamps as McPhee and Jaume spread the word over drones.
The more open the improvisation and the less the group attempts to keep a tempo, the more successful Po Music is: despite Mechali's propulsion, both up-tempo takes of "Oleo" are deep-sixed by Boni's ridiculous synthesized guitar playing and a lack of valuable interplay (probably thrown off by the former). Boni is a tremendous guitarist, and he has recorded gorgeous solo dates of his own, not to mention the subtly complex chordal playing he injects into some of the live performances on this disc. However, only when the playing is understated and spare does his synth-guitar concept work here.
McPhee has hit on a central concept in jazz and improvised music with his engagement of lateral thinking. Improvisation, for it to be successful, must occur on an equal level between participants, a conversation in one room, at one table, even if the plates and silverware differ. The fact that this session is somewhat hit-or-miss does not defer from the notion of Po Music, for ebb and flow must include failures as well as successes.
Personnel: Joe McPhee (cnt, ts) Andre Jaume (cl, bcl, as) Raymond Boni (el-g, synth-g) Francois Mechali (b 1-7 only)