Joe McPhee is one of the pioneers of solo reed playing. While Coleman Hawkins and Eric Dolphy played occasional solo pieces, Anthony Braxton was the first musician to dedicate an entire album, For Alto, to solo reed explorations. Perhaps even more importantly, he was the first to develop a sonic vocabulary specifically dedicated to solo reed performance. After him came Steve Lacy and Evan Parker on soprano, both with highly original and ground-breaking perspectives on the straight horn. And on tenor there was Joe McPhee with this great 1976 Hat Hut album, now happily reissued.
This edition includes the original Tenor album plus one additional solo track, "Fallen Angels," which was recorded the following year. Tenor has lost none of its freshness or originality in the quarter-century that followed it. In many ways, we're still playing catch-up.
It's actually in one sense a very conventional album. The themes are catchy (particularly "Knox" and "Good-Bye Tom B.") and they are clearly stated at the beginnings of the tunes. What is so arresting about Tenor - and by extension about Tenor & Fallen Angels - is the immediacy of Joe's sound, the vividness of his developing improvisations, the grandeur of his melodies and tone, and the wild vibrant colors of the music.
The centerpiece, the 23-minute "Tenor," explores sounds and moods and textures, in a way that only Joe McPhee has done it and perhaps that only Joe McPhee could do it. The breathtaking unity and development of this long piece is a wonder to behold. Don't miss it, or this handsome reissue. Highly recommended.
Joe McPhee, ts.
Knox / Good-Bye, Tom B. / Sweet Dragon / Tenor / Fallen Angels.