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Joe McPhee: From Outer Space

Thad Aerts By

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Joe McPhee, the 78-year-old multi-instrumentalist dedicated to the saxophone, has a new trio. McPhee on said saxophone with James Keepnews on guitar and laptop, and David Berger on drums make up Plan B. From Outer Space is the trio's inaugural offering. Free in its wandering's, the record is still incredibly cohesive and multi-themed.

Recorded as an ode to Sun Ra, the lads execute self-control knowing when, where and how to play. Because of this, the record builds an atmospheric thematic quality that may or may not have been intentional. Though this comes off strictly as an all improv record, I have to believe there was some preconceived direction taking place. And if in fact there is not, there is a fair share of tension derived from the struggle of the three to stay on the same page.

McPhee keeps things simple and relatively calm with hints of fury, but never throwing a fit. The nature in which he and Keepnews play off each other is intriguing and particularly in check. Keepnews' use of electronics adds a layer of unexpected texture. There are points the record sounds like the love child of any number of ESP records mated with 90's-era Thrill Jockey indie rock. It's the freedom with well executed restraint. As fine as Coltrane's Interstellar Space or Brotzmann's Machine Gun are, when was the last time you listened to either of those records all the way through? Berger completes the triangle. Elvin Jones he is not—and as far as this record is concerned, his steady restraint is precisely necessary.

From Outer Space clocks in at just under 50 minutes. The trick here is that due to the muli-faceted nature of the record, it holds interest consistently. From atmospheric, to playful, and all things in between, Plan B allow themselves the creative license to cover a lot of territory within their chosen platform. This isn't the free jazz or drone record that is exploring self-imposed confines. The boys seamlessly wander while maintaining locked arms.

The LP comes with a free digital download, albeit a 256 kbps MP3. By the same token, It can't be called an audiophile pressing, but it does have the live, punchy, "you are there" presentation.

This is an intriguing and forebodingly playful record. It invites the listener to come along on the ride rather than making you feel like it's an inside joke you don't get.

Track Listing: Overture; Space Travel; Arrival; A Peaceful Resolution; Plea; Shadow of the Sun Suite: Parts One Through Four; Shadow of the Sun Suite: Part Five Aftermath.

Personnel: Joe McPhee: saxophone; James Keepnews: guitar, laptop; David Berger: drums.

Title: From Outer Space | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Roaratorio Records

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