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STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: The Improvisations of Joe McPhee

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This week, let's take a look at some video clips of multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, who will be performing next Saturday, September 17, at the Kranzberg Arts Center in a concert presented by New Music Circle. The show will feature McPhee with his band Survival Unit III, which also includes Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Michael Zarang on percussion.

McPhee, who will turn 72 this year, was born in Miami, raised in Poughkeepsie NY, and now spends a lot of time in Chicago when he's not on the road. He began his musical career as a trumpet player, later learning to play saxophone at age 32 after being inspired by the music of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman, and currently performs on a variety of brass and reed instruments.

McPhee first recorded in 1967 with trumpeter Clifford Thornton, and made several albums as a leader for the small CMJ label before connecting in the mid 1970s with Werner X. Uehlinger, a Swiss businessman who founded the labels HatHut and HatArt specifically to record and release McPhee's music. Those recordings helped bring McPhee to the attention of European audiences as well as music critics and journalists in the USA, though paying work in his home country remained scarce for years. McPhee has continued to record prolifically, with more than 60 titles as a leader released on HatHut and several other independent labels.

During the 1980s McPhee developed his own concept of improvisation called “Po Music," influenced by composer Pauline Oliveros' theories of “deep listening" and the book Lateral Thinking: a Textbook of Creativity by Edward de Bono. In the 1990s, he began collaborating frequently with Chicago-based musicians, including Lonberg-Holm and Zerang as well as reedman Ken Vandermark and trombonist Jeb Bishop. McPhee also plays in the group Trio X with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen, and has performed with Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson and many other notable improvising musicians.

There seems to be just one online clip available of McPhee with Survival Unit III, which was used here in part 1 of StLJN's fall jazz preview a couple of weeks ago. So today, we offer some videos showing McPhee playing in several different contexts, starting with some solo pieces.

The first one in the embed window up above is called “Pig Knuckles and Rice," and was recorded in March of this year at the University of the Streets in NYC. Down below, you can see and hear an excerpt from McPhee's performance at a tribute concert for saxophonist Albert Ayler presented last December in Paris. In the third slot, McPhee plays another solo piece, “Old Eyes (For Ornette Coleman)," recorded in May 2009 at The Local 269 NYC.

Below that, you can check out McPhee in a duo with bassist Dominic Duval, playing a loose interpretation of Thelonious Monk's “'Round Midnight," and below that, there's an excerpt from a 2010 duo performance with drummer Chris Corsano (who will play in St. Louis in January in another concert presented by New Music Circle.)

We wrap up with a two-part excerpt from a performance by Trio X in March, 2006 in Vilnius, Lithuania, a show that was released as a double LP by NoBusiness Records.

For more about McPhee, see this interview from 1996, and this one from 2005. For more about Survival Unit III, read this review of their most recent recording Syncronicity.












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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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