Joe McPhee | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joe McPhee 

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JOE McPHEE

Though sadly he remains unknown, Joe McPhee is one of the most distinctive voices to emerge from the free-jazz movement of the late 60s. Raised in Poughkeepsie (where he still lives) by his trumpet-playing father--who provided his first horn lessons--McPhee studied technique while serving in the military and later cut his teeth playing aggressive, post-Ayler energy music in the late 60s with the great trombonist Clifford Thornton. Near the end of the decade he picked up the saxophone, which proved ideal in expressing his ferocious stream of ideas. By the mid-70s his angry playing transformed into a more contemplative but equally intense style that bridged the gap between the sanctified spirit of Ayler and the spaciousness of the AACM crew. He spent most of the late 70s in Europe, where the prestigious Swiss label Hat Hut Records was founded specifically to release his recordings. His 1976 Tenor was a stunning solo sax recital--still a novel concept in jazz during this era--that infused his cerebral playing with shimmering beauty and potent expression. A series of excellent 80s recordings--built around a core trio with guitarist Raymond Boni and saxophonist Andre Jaume--suggested McPhee's group skills matched his solo expertise. During the 80s McPhee called each of these shifting ensembles Po Music, the word "po" derived from words like "possible," "poetic," "positive"; McPhee sees his music as the result of a series of "provocations," be they a poem, a melody, or an idea. Despite the seemingly esoteric qualities suggested by this reasoning, McPhee's music is rooted in human expressiveness; technique and organization are secondary. McPhee doesn't perform much outside of Europe or major North American jazz festivals--this date marks his long-overdue Chicago debut. McPhee will perform one solo set, and for the second set he'll be joined by saxophonist Ken Vandermark and bassist Kent Kessler. Truly an event. Wednesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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