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Joe McPhee: Flowers

Mark Corroto By

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For the longest time it was a commonly held belief that solo saxophone performances, especially freely improvised solo saxophone performances, were an acquired taste. Meaning they are things that one has come to like only through experience, but mostly it is a polite way to say you find the music distasteful. Certainly, much of improvised music can be spoken of in this manner, but when an artist performs with the sincerity and genuineness that saxophonist Joe McPhee does every night, that taste I spoke of becomes easily savored.

Flowers captures McPhee live in Portugal at the Coimbra Jazz Festival, 2009. Listeners have been fortunate of late to hear McPhee in the solo releases, Sonic Elements (Clean Feed, 2013), Alto (Roaratorio, 2009), soprano (Roaratorio, 2007), and the reissues and archival music Solos: The Lost Tapes (1980 -1981 -1984) (Roaratorio, 2015), Zurich (1979) (Astral Spirits, 2016), and his most heralded release, recorded in 1977 Tenor + Fallen Angels (Hatology, 2000).

This date might instantly become the best loved of all. The immaculate recording captures seemingly every breath, fingered key click and note, making it easy to imagine his body language. "Eight Street and Avenue C" opens the affair with the pop and click of keys that must still the audience, as they wait for his music to progress towards breath and extended notes. McPhee displays a total command of the instrument, moving next to the most tender of notes. His repeated patterns develop into vocalizations sung through the horn. At this point, he has the audience eating out of his hand. As we like to hear, "but wait, there's more." McPhee delivers six more pieces. Two, "Old Eyes" and "Know" are compositions, the first for Ornette Coleman and the second for Niklaus Troxler, the founder of the Willisau festival. The remainder are freely improvised. The title track, dedicated to the Danish saxophonist John Tchicai, is a well oiled extended technique piece that dances the razor-edge of mountain tops. McPhee's circular breathing on "Third Circle" has the feel of an ancient language come to life, and his whistled passages bookending his dedication to saxophonist Mark Whitecage surround the most humane blues. "The Night Bird's Call" is the encore. Beginning with rhythmic clapping, then carbonated popping notes, he works his saxophone as a percussive machine, making the most profound music from the simplest ingredients.

Track Listing: Eight Street and Avenue C (For Alton Pickens); Old Eyes (For Ornette Coleman); Knox (For Niklaus Troxler); Flowers (For John Tchicai); The Whistler (For Mark Whitecage); Third Circle (For Anthony Braxton); The Night Bird's Call (For Julius Hemphill).

Personnel: Joe McPhee: alto saxophone

Title: Flowers | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Cipsela Records

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