All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

640

Joe McPhee at Cafe Oto, London

John Sharpe By

Sign in to view read count
Joe McPhee
Cafe Oto
London, England
December 11, 2009


When the eerie vocalized wail first manifested itself, the audience was left looking for the source. But it quickly became apparent that, even though his facial expression didn't betray the burden, saxophonist Joe McPhee was generating the noise at the same time as extracting multiphonic timbres from his soprano saxophone. McPhee's throat singing added an emotionally charged dimension to his already deeply soulful playing in a dazzling display of his artistry. McPhee was in London at Dalston's Cafe Oto for the first night of a two day residency which found him partnering two different units of seasoned and upcoming members of the London improv scene. Active since the late '60s, the hornman has forged relationships across the globe with a bountiful recorded legacy testament to a refreshing openness to collaboration. One of his most stable outlets in recent years has been the co-operative Trio X with Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen, who played an outstanding set at the 2009 Vision Festival. Their singular flavor stems from their shared love of standards and the American songbook artfully blended into their more avant-garde predilections. Another recent arena for McPhee stems from his participation in Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, and his ongoing collaborations with its constituent members. Here the ethos of total improvisation finds McPhee somewhere between free jazz and European improvised music, which is also the territory, without maps, where tonight's grouping pitched the reedman.

Joining him were bassist John Edwards, who also played with McPhee on a previous visit in 2004, drummer Steve Noble, and on Hammond C3 organ, Alexander Hawkins (below). Edwards is the go-to bass man on the London improvised scene, popping up with almost everyone. In the space of a week this year he gigged with Evan Parker, Sunny Murray, and John Tchicai. In terms of development Noble has followed a trajectory similar to the bassist's, starting with post punk jazz (Rip Rig & Panic), and ending with Lol Coxhill, Simon Fell and Alan Wilkinson to name just a few recent collaborators. Hawkins hails from a later generation but is catching up fast, his piano spicing the ensembles of Evan Parker and Louis Moholo-Moholo, fronting his own sextet and forming part of the transatlantic Convergence along with Taylor Ho Bynum and Harris Eisenstadt.

Together, Hawkins, Edwards and Noble constitute Decoy, which has one release to its name in Volume 1 Spirit (Bo'Weavil, 2009) a freely improvised trio featuring Hawkins' organ, his first recorded outing away from his customary piano. While the Hammond remains a novelty in free settings, Hawkins' church organ background finds him well placed to exploit its distinctive sonic signature.



Noble's emphatic pulsing cadences began the first set accompanied by a deep disturbing drone from Edward's bass. Hawkins chipped in a bubbling swell on Hammond, and the three slowly built to a wailing climax. At which point the drummer broke into a high tempo meter on his cymbals setting up McPhee's mewling soprano saxophone entrance. After the reedman had set out his stall over the full on group interplay, Hawkins organ waves broke over the audience, his glissandos surfing up and down the keyboard. A sequence of crashes from Noble brought everyone into synch for an explosive bass/drum eruption. This continuous flux established the template for the evening early on, with varying combinations incorporated into a seamless flow, all the more astonishing for how well it hung together over 105 minutes and two sets, in spite of the lack of preconception.

McPhee is a master of this sort of spontaneous composition. On tenor he boisterously barked over a sparse backing, before slipping into an achingly lyrical mood which could have turned into any number of spirituals but never quite resolved. Melodicism amid the mayhem characterized much of McPhee's strategy this evening. Though he never overtly referenced tunes the way he sometimes does with Trio X, there was often a sense of tradition lurking just below the surface. In other settings his long sustained tones could easily have heralded favorites like Monk's "Evidence" or "Try A Little Tenderness." This balancing act between McPhee's connection to the tradition and the British trio's determined dissonance made for a riveting tension—one amplified by McPhee's favored gambit of pitching slow lines against dense roiling trio momentum to winning effect.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

In Pictures
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
From Outer Space

From Outer Space

Roaratorio Records
2018

buy
Imaginary Numbers

Imaginary Numbers

Clean Feed Records
2018

buy
Flowers

Flowers

Cipsela Records
2016

buy
Ticonderoga

Ticonderoga

Clean Feed Records
2015

buy
Solos : The Lost Tapes (1980 – 1981 – 1984)

Solos : The Lost...

Roaratorio Records
2015

buy

Related Articles

Read The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater Live Reviews
The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater
by Mackenzie Horne
Published: November 15, 2018
Read Enjoy Jazz 2018 Live Reviews
Enjoy Jazz 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Jazz for all Ages Live Reviews
Jazz for all Ages
by Martin McFie
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Baku Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Baku Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe Live Reviews
Joanna Pascale at Chris' Jazz Cafe
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: November 13, 2018
Read Moldejazz 2018 Live Reviews
Moldejazz 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: November 10, 2018
Read "Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery" Live Reviews Henry Threadgill at Tilton Gallery
by Kurt Gottschalk
Published: December 10, 2017
Read "Supersonic 2018" Live Reviews Supersonic 2018
by Martin Longley
Published: October 23, 2018
Read "Galway Jazz Festival 2018" Live Reviews Galway Jazz Festival 2018
by James Fleming
Published: October 25, 2018