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Specific Gravity by Joe McPhee & Joe Giardullo

Physics is not a thing; it is the name of a science that analyzes the functions and occurrences of the physical world. Just as physics is not a thing, gravity is a universal constant---the measure of an active force exacted on mass in terms of distance. Specific gravity is a measurement that is particular to an aspect of gravity which when reached allows for a change in the effects of the force.

This is the reason that SPECIFIC GRAVITY as a title for the Joe McPhee/Joe Giardullo duet recording recently released on Boxholder Records reflects the musical characteristics therein. Assigning the double-edged idea that the music the two produce has a specific, serious intent and meaning as well as a limited but universal constancy is extremely appropriate.

The sound modes that exist here are unexpected. Electronics become a valuable enhancement of the artfulness with which the two musicians play a variety of instruments. The electronics supply some rhythm and repeats. Yet, also, and unforgettably, emphatically so, the versatility of these two musicians expresses in a mechanical and amoebic way that which can be achieved with electronic means. Unmatched in any sound-making context is the development of the delicacy, synchronicity, timing and rhythmic sensitivity that evokes a calm, tender meditative quality and a sense of determination, underlying the texture of all 51 minutes of music.

There are four pieces on the recording. The first is quite lengthy and attests to a complete evolution from a series of phrasings that note by note provide a foundation for an interlocking of unfolding ringing, elongated melodies and phrases that delight and excite and enlighten and reach deep into internal being with webs of tempestuous, entangled (THE MAN I LOVE) and frantic arpeggiations. The second cut (which seems to be all Joe McPhee to me) is a series of valving ostinatos that switch key and squeak and hit low pitches and is ceaseless until its whispered conclusion. The third track is AFTER THE RAIN, which piece McPhee once recorded on his second solo album; but this time, a bit of electronics and Giardullo’s contrapuntal lines add to the fullness of the tune’s resonance; by the end of the piece, the two are singing reverently together on different instruments a distinctive interval width apart. The last cut demonstrates Giardullo’s fluency on the flute in C and McPhee’s on the valve trombone.

Not thinking about the fact that this is a recording of a live radio broadcast in 1997, I found interesting Joe McPhee’s words after AFTER THE RAIN in honor of John Coltrane’s birthday and at the conclusion of the CD where he credits Giardullo with playing flute & reeds and then announces his own name. This gesture addresses two intentions, I believe, on McPhee’s part: one, to acknowledge that he is not alone in his effort to carry on the spirit that surrounds and is within and radiates out of the music; and two, that he is forever grateful for and is a humble servant of the music that carries us through to great joy and affects healing of the deepest wounds.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe McPhee & Joe Giardullo
  • CD Title: Specific Gravity
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Boxholder Records
  • Tracks: A Priori, Specific Gravity, After The Rain, Sienna
  • Musicians: Joe McPhee (alto clarinet, soprano sax, valve trombone, electronics), Joe Giardullo (flute in C, bass clarinet, soprano sax, electronics)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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