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Spring Issues in a New View

The third of the 2002 revival of Eremite Records’ Meetinghouse Concerts featured Joe McPhee on saxophones and Paul Hession on drums.

The miracle of spring opens the doors for enlivening insights and feelings that lay deep inside me waiting to come out while the clouds and low pressure still hover. Last night’s concert opened those doors. It presented to me the ways in which McPhee is bringing to his playing the foundations which laid the groundwork for his evolution (as is exemplified in the occasional appearance of the single-pitch hollowness of the sound of the tenor sax that is somehow innocent and newborn) as well as the turning points thereafter given his experiences in Europe and his connections with the "Deep Listening" group spearheaded by Pauline Oliveros (which specifically results in his openness to the natural atmosphere to lead to echoing the sounds that are a part of life and to which attention needs to be paid). Perhaps unknowingly ( as is no doubt the case, for this is how artists create), McPhee is openly collecting all the strings that he has carried in terms of his exploration and tying them together to shape, not a "world" music, but a universal music, as he continues to carve out different roads, different pathways, playing with new musicians in new places ------always in forward motion.

The union of Paul Hession and McPhee provided a revelatory contrast. Hession’ s sparkling, direct, quick paced drumming in parallel with McPhee’s predominantly fluid tonalities on both the soprano and tenor saxes emphasized the nature of the work involved for both musicians in learning how to intersect and support one another in their improvisation.

Hession’s drumming is compact, accurate, dry, often patently rhythmic yet always intensely precise. McPhee’ s playing frequently evokes the idea of a flowing river, especially when he plays the soprano sax. The sound ranges characteristically from the hymn-like to the blues to the totally abstract as seemingly unrelated series of notes construct an unimaginable musical image.

When McPhee played the tenor with the drums last night, the music was electric, the element of abstraction predominated. The ramifications therein reflected how close to the gut the whole creative process is. What became the body of the session was a bold, lengthy surge. McPhee rocked with the tenor incessantly, aligning with the rattling, clicking, ticking of the drums. McPhee turned away from the audience and faced the drums to his right; he raised the horn to the ceiling of the hall and down again. Over and over again. Repeating the phrases, accentuating the single notes, each time with more stringency, more crescendo, more drive until it was time to seal the envelope and end the journey.

In the second set, the duo was joined by Paul Flaherty on alto. The three, in another way, created a powerhouse of sound. Each musician yielded to the talents of the other creating a sonic picture of coming together and separating that involved marches, ultimate peaking in registers on the horns, and drumming which moved the horns to zones of eloquence and synchronicity. And as is constant, the acoustical properties of the Meetinghouse venue, conducive to glorious resonance, were not to be ignored.

At this gig, there was nothing that I could do except be swept away with the musical moments that were being offered to me. There is nothing else like the experience of letting go and allowing that to happen. The freedom with which the music surrounds me is remarkably real. The flowers blossom; the leaves uncurl; the sun and rain mix to bring new life, inspiration, the incentive to write these words. The poetry that follows cannot imitate the music; it can only revisit and be inspired by the music. One art form informs the other. This is the reason I believe so deeply in this music. This music is my saviour.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe McPhee and Paul Hession
  • Concert Date: 5/4/2002
  • Venue: Amherst Unitarian Meetinghouse
  • City State Country: Amherst, MA
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