Joe McPhee's Bluette: Let Paul Robeson Sing

Derek Taylor By

Sign in to view read count
The themes of cultural and spiritual emancipation as reflected through the African American experience have served as the bread and butter for the music of Joe McPhee’s Bluette since the ensemble’s origins. It seems only natural then that the group would chose to honor a figure who stands as exemplary of these too often curtailed ideals. Paul Robeson’s life story and work are rich in the principles that drive the quartet and his passion and dignity bleed directly into the dedicatory music.

Composed in suite-like fashion, but committed to tape in piecemeal order the program traces an oblique trail through key incidents in Robeson’s personal history. The opening “RENAISSANCE” unfolds in a wash of spiritual pathos as fragments both hauntingly familiar and freshly minted. Thanks to the usual CIMP engineering latitudes (which can seem like strictures depending on listener tastes) Duval and Bisio suffer in the quieter sections as in the opening minutes where their twining lines skirt the edges of audibility. McPhee and Giardullo are easily discernable thanks both to the clean delineation of their chosen instruments and the ability of their reeds, winds and brass to project with clarion certainty through the naked sonic space. The middle episodes sacrifice linear clarity for an abstracted intricacy that is at times patience taxing, but placed in the context of the whole their purpose makes perfect sense. In a sense they reflect Robeson’s own ideological imperative of following one’s own muse and convictions whatever the cost to reputation and risk to self.

Throughout these sections the four players calibrate for increased freedom and dissonance in the interplay. On “PEEKSKILL” they trace a volatile musical interpretation of a violent incident instigated by agitators in response to Robeson’s call for African Americans to abstain from military service. Tandem bowed basses stir an ominous undercurrent over which clicking breath sounds scurry and chatter. The mood soon turns more blatantly hostile as the acerbic horns spew multiphonic invectives and the strings answer with harmonic vitriol of their own. A mocking round-robin march closes “September 4th,” seemingly echoing the small-minded bigotry that Robeson met that day. McPhee’s contrasting solo tenor coda “EPITAPH” carves a fitting capstone for the date, etching an improvisation that is at turns tender and hopeful.

A secondary, but no less indelible influence is highlighted in McPhee’s elucidative liners- that of the infamy and tragedy inherent in the events of September 11th. Six days after this session was taped the group, with Tani Tabbal in Duval’s stead, found themselves again in a studio, reeling from the day’s destruction and sadness. This earlier recording stands a prescient precursor traveling many of the same roads of loss and redemption in the face of overwhelming odds and grief. McPhee communicates in no uncertain terms that he does not consider this music jazz; it is instead a “tribute to an American Hero” and “ remembrances of a man, a human being with all of the strengths and weaknesses of all humans.” Whatever it’s pedigree the strength of the music and its ability to spur the emotions speaks for itself.

CIMP discs are distributed directly through North Country Distributors reachable on the web at: http://www.cadencebuilding.com

Track Listing: Episode I: RENAISSANCE- Harlem Spiritual (21:25)/ Episode II: PEEKSILL (1949)- 1ST Movement: Prelude (4:41)/ 2nd Movement: August 27th (5:54)/ 3rd Movement: September 4th (7:03)/ Episode III: FOR PAUL- Here I Stand (11:23)/ At the Peace Arch (10:32)/ Episode IV: EPITAPH- Water Boy/ Deep River/ Ol’ Man River (10:32).

Personnel: Joe McPhee- tenor saxophone, flugelhorn, alto clarinet; Joe Giardullo- flute, bass clarinet; Michael Bisio- bass; Dominic Duval- bass. Recorded: September 4 & 5, 2001, Rossie, NY.

Title: Let Paul Robeson Sing | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: CIMP Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read ON Tour CD/LP/Track Review ON Tour
by John Kelman
Published: October 22, 2017
Read On a Distant Shore CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets CD/LP/Track Review Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Signal 9 CD/LP/Track Review Signal 9
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 22, 2017
Read For the Love of You CD/LP/Track Review For the Love of You
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Recent Developments CD/LP/Track Review Recent Developments
by John Sharpe
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Territoires" CD/LP/Track Review Territoires
by Mark Sullivan
Published: August 26, 2017
Read "Backlog" CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark Sullivan
Published: May 17, 2017
Read "Unlimited 1, Live at Catalina's" CD/LP/Track Review Unlimited 1, Live at Catalina's
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 22, 2016
Read "Saluting Sgt. Pepper" CD/LP/Track Review Saluting Sgt. Pepper
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 22, 2017
Read "Witches Stew: A Tribute to Miles Davis" CD/LP/Track Review Witches Stew: A Tribute to Miles Davis
by Doug Collette
Published: October 15, 2017
Read "2nd Thoughts" CD/LP/Track Review 2nd Thoughts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 8, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.