Joe McPhee & Hamid Drake: Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement of Freedom
A couple of photos in the packaging of Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement of Freedom feature Joe McPhee and Hamid Drake dressed up in brightly colored shirts and appearing to be two Parrot Heads about to hear Jimmy. However, with all due respect to the fine music of Margaritaville, Mr. Buffett has nothing McPhee and Drake.
For over 30 years McPhee has walked the line between Ayleresque screeching and more lyrical playing. He goes primarily for the latter on Emancipation Proclamation and in turn opens up a range of new possibilities for Drake. Best known for rock solid, groove oriented work behind such saxophone titans as Fred Anderson and Peter Brotzmann, the drummer is also the centerpiece for bands that would dissolve in unbridled chaos without him. Drake's work in these situations is certainly exciting and creative but on this disc Drake plays in a manner that would not fit such situations. Here his playing is textured with rhythmic colors oozing from the kit.
Recorded live on June 25, 1999 at the Empty Bottle in the improvisational haven of Chicago, fhe first two cuts on Emancipation Proclamation , "Cries and Whispers" and "Mother Africa (for Miriam Makeba)," are blues numbers where McPhee and Drake gently move amongst one another like two enmeshed lovers. McPhee takes center stage on the standard "God Bless the Child" while Drake plays a brilliant supporting role. You will have to listen intently to get anything significant out of Drake's work but doing so will be the worth the effort. Fans of McPhee's recent work on the CIMP label where he has reworked sacred songs will enjoy this track.
Drake kicks into high gear with the title cut, creating a variety of pulses that would work in a variety of funk and rock settings. On top of that is McPhee's wailing which varies from gleeful to searing. The final track -the encore of the live performance- is a sole saxophone piece called "Hate Crime Cries." At under 3 minutes of music, the piece does seem a bit short but McPhee is one of the greatest ever at solo performances and he creates a lament that is intellectually interesting and a fine descendent of "Strange Fruit" and "Alabama."
There are some recording gaffes but far more noticeable are problems that actually indicate just how strong this recording is. For instance, a little over halfway through second cut, Drake attempts to add a ride cymbal to his pattern with a few hesitant chimes of that cymbal. McPhee immediately alters his playing in response but Drake does not carry through with it and for the next few bars attempts to add the cymbal to his pattern but never with any luck. Eventually the drummer lets go of that idea and the two players are freed to pursue more productive avenues. The exchange shows both the communication between these two musicians and that they were continuously pushing the music to create something new and more powerful than they had ever done before. This drive for excellence permeates Emancipation Proclamation and the wise listener will imbibe every drop of sound.
Track Listing: Cries and Whispers; Mother Africa (for Miriam Makeba); God Bless the Child; Emancipation Proclamation; Hate Crime Cries.
Personnel: Joe McPhee: pocket trumpet, tenor saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums, percussion.