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Joe McPhee: Nation Time

Robert Spencer By

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If you have enjoyed some of Joe McPhee's recent releases, such as Undersound or Novio Iolu, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. Even if you're well aware that Joe doesn't always work with the delicacy and subtlety he employs on those two discs, but with the bluster and grandeur of Grand Marquis, you'll find that this one is different. A long-awaited rerelease of a 1970 recording, Nation Time is the exuberance of the master in his youth, haranguing the crowd ("WHAT TIME IS IT?" "Nation Time" "AW, C'MON! YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT! WHAT TIIIIME IS IT???" "NATION TIME!") and playing a glorious to-the-wall mixture of r&b and free motifs, with a great deal more thrown in too.

Two of these three long tracks were recorded at a concert at Vassar College on December 12, 1970: "Nation Time" and "Scorpio's Dance." Featuring the electric piano of Mike Kull and the relentless percussion of Bruce Thompson and Ernest Bostic, there is a definite hint of rock in the music. McPhee also, especially on "Nation Time," plays with a burred r&b tenor tone reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's much-imitated sound on Ornette on Tenor. And also like the music on that album, the groove isn't constant. Although it's a stronger one than Ornette ever favored at that time, it's elastic enough to give way to periods where McPhee and Kull solo searchingly in empty space. Indeed, one of the most exciting things about this album is the sense of space. Although all three of these tracks are quite propulsive, McPhee and his men are imaginative enough to continue to refresh them with rhythmic and other variations.

"Shakey Jake," recorded in a studio the next day, adds an alto saxophonist, an organist, and an electric guitarist. The electric guitarist plays in the mode of many players in the nascent fusion movement of those days, so this track's flavor fits right in with the other two: free r&b of a style more musically adventurous than that made famous by Miles Davis, but still full of enough hooks to wow the crowd.

And wow the crowd it did. Thirty years later, it's still just as powerful.


Track Listing: Nation Time / Shakey Jake / Scorpio's Dance

Personnel: Joe McPhee, ts, tpt; Mike Kull, p, el p; Tyrone Crabb, ac b, el b, tpt; Bruce Thompson and Ernest Bostic, perc. On "Shakey Jake": Otis Greene, as; Herbie Lehman, org; Dave Jones, el g.

Title: Nation Time | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide


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