Until recently Joe McPhee’s early recorded years were something of a sealed book. The rarity of his vernal trilogy of vinyl releases for the CJR label forced most listeners to access these legendary LPs through poorly rendered bootleg copies or simply via the testimony of the lucky few fortunate enough to own original pressings of the albums. Through the vigilant efforts of the Unheard label the drought has finally ceased and McPhee’s trailblazing platters are at long last finding their way back into print. Trinity is the second entry in the series, preceded by the soon to be reissued Underground Railroad (1969) and followed by Nation Time, which was reissued by Unheard in spring of 2000. Originally time compressed to fit into the confines of a long-playing record the session has been restored to it’s originally recording speed opening up the dynamic range considerably.
A blues-based distant cousin to the Edgar Varesé composition of the same name McPhee’s opening “Ionization” is a lengthy improvised exchange vested with similar levels of rhythmic energy. McPhee starts on tenor squealing oblong tones in tandem with Smith’s rolling percussion. Waves of textured sound crash and swirl around the pair as they drift in a sea of choppy polyphony. Kull’s acoustic piano eventually replaces McPhee’s horn voicing jackrabbit clusters against Smith’s cymbals before the leader’s craggy return in a rush of overblown flutters. Later the mood moves lyric with McPhee blowing tender Trane-like streams on tenor over a hard-edged tidal torrent of drums. A brief trumpet speech segues into a vocalized chant section before a final return to tenor and close.
“Astral Spirits,” ostensibly dedicated to the Ayler Brothers dusts off Kull’s electric keys and McPhee’s soprano in an improvisation the blooms slowly, but beautifully out of a folk-rooted theme. Overdubbing trumpet with soprano for the last several minutes McPhee creates a delicate braiding of lines with Kull’s luminous chords. Kull and Smith launch “Delta” together juggling the lead over a luminous expanse. McPhee eventually enters on pocket cornet breathing earnestly elegiac tones but soon turns to tenor for a more heated blues drenched energy. Moving back to trumpet and finally soprano he succeeds in cycling through each of his horns, Kull and Smith crafting a sliding wall of rhythms around him.
In his recently scribed liners, which accompany the disc, McPhee states that Trinity was the first record where he really began to feel comfortable with his tenor playing. Drinking in his work on each of his horns over the duration of the album it’s startling how much of McPhee the mature player is already solidly in place and his explanation takes on new candor. Curiously the gothic sword and sorcery cover illustration is left unexplained.
Atavistic/Unheard on the web: http://www.atavistic.com
Track Listing: Ionization/ Astral Spirits/ Delta.
Personnel: Joe McPhee- tenor & soprano saxophones; trumpet, pocket cornet; Mike Kull- piano, electric piano; Harold E. Smith- percussion. Recorded: November 28, 1971, West Park, NY.
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