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CD/LP/Track Review

Joe McPhee: Sonic Elements (2013)

By Published: August 3, 2013
Joe McPhee: Sonic Elements Ernest Hemingway might have said it best: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." For musician Joe McPhee, delivering that one true sentence has been his motivation since the 1960s.

An in-demand improviser, he can be heard in multiple settings including the bands of Peter Brotzmann
Peter Brotzmann
Peter Brotzmann
b.1941
reeds
and Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
b.1964
saxophone
, as a guest of the Deep Listening Band, Trespass Trio and Decoy, and with the rock band, Cato Salsa Experience. He maintains his longstanding association with Dominic Duval
Dominic Duval
Dominic Duval
b.1945
bass
and Jay Rosen
Jay Rosen
Jay Rosen
b.1961
drums
in Trio X, and can also be heard in an Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
tribute band. His duo recordings find him with the likes of Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
, Joe Giardullo
Joe Giardullo
Joe Giardullo

saxophone
, Daunik Lazro and Michael Bisio
Michael Bisio
Michael Bisio

bass, acoustic
but is, perhaps, best heard with drummers Paal Nilssen-Love
Paal Nilssen-Love
Paal Nilssen-Love
b.1974
drums
and Hamid Drake
Hamid Drake
Hamid Drake
b.1955
percussion
.

The question may be whether he wrote that "one true sentence" in a Swiss farmhouse in 1976. The out-of-print solo recording, Tenor (Hat Hut, 1977), and its subsequent reissue, Tenor & Fallen Angels (Hatology, 2000), is a stunning session that has been referenced by many a musician (and journalist) as a life-changing listening experience.

McPhee has since recorded a half dozen solo sessions, including this live date (although the audience is never heard) from the 2012 Slovenian Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Setting his tenor saxophone aside, he plays two lengthy pieces: first, a tribute to Don Cherry
Don Cherry
Don Cherry
1936 - 1995
trumpet
on a pocket trumpet; then an alto saxophone salute to Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
. Neither piece is imitative, nor are they peppered with covers of the two great men. McPhee choses, instead, to delve into the meditative and sonic outposts of the two chosen instruments.

"Episode One (for Don Cherry)" begins beyond the trumpet, in silence. Then comes the breathy blown non-note, a combination of vocalizations and air. McPhee invents his horn, or maybe reinvents music here. From the purity of first sounds comes tentative notes, trills and splats. He whispers and summons a tale of memory here. Same for his take on Coleman and "Episode Two." A bit of a saxophone workout, McPhee exercises a trip around honking corners before dropping some blues: a sort-of melancholy hymn. The performance is more a storytelling then musical experience; maybe McPhee's one true sentence.


Track Listing: Episode One (for Don Cherry): Wind, Water; Episode Two (for Ornette Coleman): Earth/Fire, Old Eyes.

Personnel: Joe McPhee: pocket trumpet, alto saxophone.

Record Label: Clean Feed Records

Style: Modern Jazz



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