07 Joe McPheeRoute 84 Quarantine Blues
Joe McPhee
Corbett vs Dempsey CvsD CD 081 (corbettvsdempsey.com)

An engaged improviser for about 55 years, tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee adapted to COVID-19 restrictions in characteristic fashion. He recorded these individualistic tracks at night over a two-week period within a closet in his Poughkeepsie home. 

Unconstrained by claustrophobia, McPhee’s tracks are as radical as those on his other discs. Besides thematic riffs he adds extended reed techniques encompassing overblowing cries, dedicated multiphonics, doits and flattement, as well as speechifying and singing phrases associated with the Black Liberation Movement and the career of Charles Mingus. Twisting in and out of Mingus’ Self Portrait in Three Colors, he salutes the exploratory bassist/composer with fragmented bites and scooping squawks on two other tracks. He references Joni Mitchell and Carla Bley melodies during other intense improvisations and adds the percussive sounds of water splashing on a pie plate in a salute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg,

Expressing humour brought out by the pandemic, he inserts recordings of cars motoring on the actual freeway during the title track, which tweaks the 12-bar blues form. On it he also manages to simultaneously project two separate circling saxophone lines, one of which maintains the melody while the other becomes gradually louder as it fragments and hammers out sharp variations on variations. Elsewhere, other interpretations are lyrical and balladic.

Overall the impression taken from this disc is that in responding musically to the pandemic’s limitations, McPhee uses it astutely as he has assimilated other stimuli throughout his remarkable career.

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