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Joe McPhee And The (Trio) X Factor

By Published: March 3, 2007
Between 1969 and 1974 Johnson released four McPhee LPs on the CjR label. They had print runs of anywhere from 500 (Underground Railroad) to 1,500 (Nation Time) copies. Not huge pressings but they made a stir. One person who heard them was Swiss businessman, Werner Uehlinger. When he was in the US on a business trip, he went to visit McPhee and Johnson. "He came over to Craig's house and we had dinner and played him some music. He liked it and, although he didn't have a label at the time, said he'd like to release it. It eventually came out as Black Magic Man and it was the first release on hatHUT Records. The label eventually became one of the main sources for creative improvised music over the next two decades and it was the main outlet for McPhee's music throughout the '70s and '80s.

McPhee's output slowed down a bit toward the end of the '80s and early '90s, in order to care for his elderly parents. By 1995, he was back at full steam. Reissues of the CjR recordings (on Atavistic) were influential to a whole new generation of players. He made a number of recordings for the Cadence/CIMP combine, which heralded a new phase with new partnerships. Most important of these was the formation of Trio X with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen.

Over the course of eight albums, these three master musicians have formed a partnership that shapes the jazz tradition (which also includes the innovations of the '60s) into their unique freewheeling approach. While some of the source material may be jazz and pop standards, the handling of it is not. Bassist Dominic Duval: "We make an honest attempt to make music that means something to us. McPhee puts it another way, "We purposely don't rehearse. When somebody wants to introduce new material, we just start it. We all have a pretty vast knowledge of the jazz literature and we can just pick and choose stuff. We destroy everything we play anyways. (laughs) But we also have a great deal of respect for that music. Another reason the music works so well is that we have such a good time together. This bonhomie is especially evident on the soon-to-be-released DVD The Train And The River: A Musical Odyssey (CIMP), recorded in Lithuania. "When we arrived in Vilnius, someone said there was a journalist and would we mind doing an interview. And we said fine. So he asked a series of questions and we answered the questions and he made this video. When it came back and we saw it, after it had been edited, we said, 'This is very beautiful' and wanted to release it.

McPhee will be playing two sets at The Stone on Mar. 27th. "The date was curated by pianist Matthew Shipp. He offered me an evening at the Stone, however I wanted to do it. I thought I'd like to have two separate concepts that evening: one, a set with [guitarist and mandolinist] Clifton Hyde and the other would be Trio X with guests. The guests are violinists Rosi Hertlein (who performed with Trio X on Rapture) and David Prentice, whose association with McPhee goes back almost 25 years. "I'm calling it "S.E.X. And Violins. S.E.X. is an acronym standing for Special Edition X.

It's McPhee's willingness to collaborate with these younger musicians that is a hallmark of his aesthetic. But he doesn't consider himself a mentor. "I'm trying to learn something. I try to keep it as open as possible just to keep things fresh. There's an awful lot I can learn from them. I look for somebody I can have a conversation with, someone I can share ideas with. It's not about me being a leader, it's about what we can put together.

"Ironically, the concert is the day of my father's birthday. When I took up the saxophone he told me if I carried on with this saxophone thing, 'you'll be a jack of all trades and a master of none!' My dad was my first and greatest inspiration. He taught me an attitude and discipline about music. I thought what he said was pretty accurate. But I was determined to do what people told me I couldn't or shouldn't do.

Recommended Listening:

· Joe McPhee—Survival Unit II: At WBAI's Free Music Store (hatART, 1971)

· Joe McPhee—Graphics, Vol.1 & 2 (hatHUT, 1977)

· Joe McPhee—Visitation (with Bill Smith Ensemble)

(Sackville-Boxholder, 1983)

· Trio X—Rapture (Cadence Jazz, 1998)

· Joe McPhee/Joe Giardullo/Mike Bisio/Tani Tabbal Shadow & Light (Drimala, 2001)

· Joe McPhee/Matthew Shipp/Dominic Duval—In Finland (Cadence Jazz, 2004)

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