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Underground Railroad by Joe McPhee Quartet

Trumpeter and tenor saxophonist Joe McPhee has with his many recordings proven himself to be one of the free scene’s most daring and intense improvisers. This 2-CD set contains McPhee’s first album from 1969, Underground Railroad (originally issued on CjR Records in a VERY limited pressing), and a previously unreleased 1968 concert recorded in West Park, NY. McPhee’s music from this period is unlike most of the avant/free stuff around that time: though politically charged, the fury often expressed was more liberating than merely angry or frustrated, and he wasn’t shy about bringing in the funk element from time to time. McPhee on both horns roars in an energy-charged style a bit like late period Coltrane, but more earth-bound and direct - there’s that defiant, righteous "cry" particular to the firebrand 60s.

This music was clearly meant to literally and/or figuratively storm the Gates of the Powers That Were. Bandmates Reggie Marks (reeds, organ), Tyrone Crabb (bass) and Ernest Bostic (drums, vibes), among others, thunder ably along with him, but McPhee is clearly the most commanding player here. Caveats: the recording quality is by today’s glistening standards a bit unpolished, but nonetheless eminently listenable; this set is not recommended for neophytes (I recommend the tremendous Nation Time, also reissued by Atavistic/Unheard Music Series, or Oleo, on hat Art), though True Believers and McPhee fans will need to own this.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe McPhee Quartet
  • CD Title: Underground Railroad
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Atavistic / Unheard Music Series
  • Rating: Three Stars
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