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Joe McPhee: Tomorrow Came Today & Sweet Freedom- Now What?

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Joe McPhee / Paal Nilssen-Love
Tomorrow Came Today
Smalltown Superjazzz
2008


Joe McPhee / Lisle Ellis / Paul Plimley
Sweet Freedom - Now What?
Hatology
1994-2008


Since his earliest releases, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee has favored that most intimate form of communication, the duet. His earliest duo recording was Pieces Of Light (1974) with synthesizer player John Snyder. Subsequently, he's worked with other reed players, a flutist, a guitarist, pianists, bassists and drummers. His most recent excursion into the format is Tomorrow Came Today, a bracing set of duets with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The two have been playing together since around 2000 in The Thing, with which McPhee has been a frequent guest, and in Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet and have developed a remarkable rapport. The opening moments of the disc are somewhat surprising though. With McPhee's fast fluttering lines and Nilssen-Love's fleet pattering, the music doesn't sound too far removed from the English strain of free improvisations, recalling Evan Parker and John Stevens. But soon the music moves into more expected terrain. McPhee's characteristic long, slow, sinuous lines rising to a moan or a roar give this music a strong emotional resonance and Nilssen-Love's drums are tuned low and provide a perfect accompaniment to McPhee's flights, always energetic yet never overpowering. And on the mostly quiet "Acts Of Time," his rumbles underscore McPhee's breathy, barely audible phrases, creating an uneasy sense of expectation. Tomorrow Came Today is a worthy addition to McPhee's ever-burgeoning discography of duet recordings.

Sweet Freedom—Now What? is a reissue of McPhee's 1994 date paying homage to Max Roach's most political period. This disc heralded a return of McPhee to more active playing after a two-year absence. Joined by Canadians Paul Plimley (piano) and Lisle Ellis (bass), the material is divided between originals by each group member and pieces from Roach's repertoire (primarily from Freedom Now Suite and Percussion Bitter Sweet). The trio stamp the music with their own mark and it seems to carry every bit as much weight as when it was the province of Roach, Abbey Lincoln and company. McPhee's growling tenor spits fire with an impassioned snarl on "Driva Man" while at the opposite end of the spectrum is Plimley's arrangement of "Garvey's Ghost," at 13 minutes the centerpiece of the album. It's almost an exercise in group stasis. Over a persistent plucked figure from Ellis and splashes of notes from Plimley, McPhee sounds like he's dragging chains across the studio floor before he picks up his tenor and plays the theme. It's a beautiful melody played over a rich series of chords. Nothing seems to rise above a pianissimo volume-wise yet the piece conveys its message perfectly. This is a straight reissue of the original with a brief set of updated liner notes by McPhee. He mentions that they performed this suite at a Washington DC jazz festival on Jul. 4th, 1994. There couldn't have been a more perfect time or place for it although another visit in 2009 might be in order.


Tracks and Personnel

Tomorrow Came Today

Tracks: Tomorrow Came Today; Go; Ibsen's Ghost; Build And Break; Acts Of Time; Sun And Steel; Body Sound; Crossing Messages.

Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone; pocket trumpet; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.

Sweet Freedom - Now What?

Tracks: Mendacity (slow); Driva' Man; Roost 2; Self Portrait - Lift Every Voice And Sing; Singing With A Sword In My Hand; Roost 1; Garvey's Ghost; Approaching The Smoke That Thunders; Triptych; Prolepsis; Mendacity (fast); A Head Of The Heartbeat; The Persistence Of Rosewood; Roost (Coda).

Personnel: Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; alto clarinet; Paul Plimley: piano; Lisle Ellis: bass.


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