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Album Review

Joe McPhee / John Edwards / Klaus Kugel: Existential Moments

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Joe McPhee / John Edwards / Klaus Kugel: Existential Moments
Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee's trio with British bassist John Edwards and German drummer Klaus Kugel has become another of his most potent working bands, following in the footsteps of such esteemed outfits as Trio X and Survival Unit III. On their third album, after Journey To Parazzar (NotTwo, 2018) and A Night In Alchemia (NotTwo, 2019), recorded in front of an audience at the FreeJazzSaar festival in Saarbrucken in 2019, the threesome conduct a masterclass in building and releasing tension, during the course of three off-the-wall creations.

McPhee's typical high wire act, teetering between no holds barred, post-Ayler skronk and emotionally freighted extemporized melody, figures prominently on the 40-minute title cut. At the same time he constantly switches between trumpet, tenor saxophone and on this occasion voice, as he searches for the exact right mode of expression. Both Edwards and Kugel remain sensitive to McPhee's shifts, judiciously choosing whether to amplify or counterbalance whichever mood he pursues.

It begins straightforwardly enough: an arco groan, drum roll and a series of annunciatory trumpet fanfares that ultimately turn into an episodic stop-start journey. Edwards particularly avails himself of the opportunities presented by the continual flux, demonstrating with tremendous physicality precisely why he's one of the premier bass players for this sort of unscripted fare, whether with passages of speedy bowing that culminate in resonant double stops or spontaneous eruptions of abrupt thwacks and slaps on wood.

But as the piece progresses it almost seems as if there is a contest between Edwards and Kugel seeking to fan the flames. McPhee, after initial acquiescence, looks to tamp them down. His tenor honks and screams spiced with vocal whoops and hollers, transmuting into tender gospel-tinged airs. That dichotomy continues right to the end as climactic resurgences vie with valedictory refrains. In its repeated alternation, the piece rams home the point that the contrasting elements form part of a greater whole, at least in McPhee's cosmos.

Two shorter cuts round out the date. On "Light Beam (for Charles)" complimentary impromptu riffs fashioned separately by Edwards and McPhee sandwich an interlude in which McPhee chants the name of dedicate, Charles Gayle, a fellow traveler on the fire music trail whom the bassist and drummer have also accompanied, while "Images In Mind" cracks on at a blistering pace with overblown tenor and fiery trumpet, before McPhee sings "Music is the healing force of the universe," the credo of his seminal influence Albert Ayler, and it would appear his own too.

Track Listing

Existential Moments; Light Beam (for Charles); Images In Mind.

Personnel

Joe McPhee: woodwinds; John Edwards: bass, acoustic; Klaus Kugel: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Joe McPhee: trumpet, tenor saxophone, voice.

Album information

Title: Existential Moments | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Not Two Records


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