Since his return to active recording and performing in the mid '90s, Joe McPhee's music has always been influenced by the palpable joy he takes from exploring the color and texture of sound. That's why it's startling to hear him tear into the familiar Sonny Rollins-penned title track so conventionally. And why it's even more startling, after you've been lulled into a comfortable post bop state for a few seconds, to hear guitarist Raymond Boni drench weird electronic effects all over the melody as if hurled from a bucket. Oleo
was recorded in 1982, and at the time McPhee was dabbling in the theory of "lateral thinking" put forth by Dr. Edward De Bono and built on "PO" as a word prefix that provokes thought and leads to the discovery of new ideas: positive, possible, poetry. McPhee then applied this notion to his creative improvisations, hence Po Music. What this has to do with what you hear on Oleo
's first half I'm not sure. Without a drummer, the rhythmic load falls on bassist Francois Mechali, who performs admirably throughout and especially on "Future Retrospective," where his wonderfully upfront tone dominates this slab of sound in a locked-in groove reminiscent of Miles' "Agharta." Reedist Andre Jaume offers tongue slaps and pops on bass clarinet and Boni sends out repeatedly echoed effects as if he were bouncing sound off the walls of a cave.
That piece is bracketed by the beautiful "Pablo" (dedicated to Picasso, Casals and Neruda), on which McPhee blows tenor with an Albert Ayler-esque vibrational tone and profound emotionalism, and "Astral Spirits" (explicitly Ayler-esque in its dedication), a funereal dirge that veers from mournful spirituality to ecstatic overblowing. Nothing abstract or theoretical in these performances, nor in the sweet, straight-ahead rendering of "I Remember Clifford."
This reissue pairs the original recording with a previously unreleased concert featuring McPhee, Jaume and Boni that probably gives a better indication of the ethereal, elusive precepts behind Po Music. Taken as a whole, these two sides of McPhee demonstrate that depth of feeling and intellectualism are not mutually exclusive in making music.
Personnel: Joe McPhee, Raymond Boni, Andre Jaume, Francois Mechali.