Joe McPhee Black Magic Man 1975
1. Black Magic Man 9:22 (McPhee)
2. Song For Lauren 9:25 (McPhee)
3. Hymn of the Dragon Kings 17:01 (McPhee)
This is an intriguing album for many reasons. If I understand it correctly this was the first release on Hat Hut records, and it has even been claimed that hearing this recording encouraged Werner Uehlinger to set up the Swiss label in the first place. Secondly, it was actually recorded five years earlier in 1970 at Vasser College in New York. It's hard to imagine now that something like this could remain unheard for so long. Of course given how small the original circulation of the record was, very few people have heard it at all. A real shame. Finally, it catches a group of musicians trying to consolidate the radical innovations of the previous few years into a very individual performance. McPhee seemed to keep to tenor and soprano saxophone on this recording, although he later mastered most of the instruments you can blow into, and some that need electricity.
I have to say, I absolutely loved this record, and can't quite see how I have got by without it! I'm again indebted to Dale for the privilege he bestowed on me to first hear, and then share, this quite marvelous record.
The opener, 'Black Magic Man' is intense, emotional music with forceful percussion, strident piano and some exhilarating playing from McPhee. I don't know much about pianist Mike Kull, although someone of the same name played with Roswell Rudd in the 1990s. His role is most significant on the second track, with its wider emotional range; clearly a personal tender ballad for Lauren (who I am told is McPhee's son). The two percussionists Ernest Bostic and Bruce Thomson are most apparent on the final track where Kull and bassist Tyrone Crabb come in well after five minutes. Listening to the first third it will be no surprise that McPhee was enamored of Jimmy Guiffre's work, with which he has much in common to this non-musicians ear. McPhee recorded an album of Giuffre's music, and dedicated it to him. You may well know how much I adore Guiffre's work. Later parts of this last track also feature some strange bass guitar playing (it's an acoustic bass we here most of the rest of the time, I think). I can't quite work out what Crabb is doing here, but it all seems to fit! The soprano and double percussion bring to my mind an influence from Coltrane, although this isn't apparent in McPhee's sound which is all his own.
The concert audience are enthusiastic, as they should be; but it's the musicians who seem to be having the real ball. I wish I'd been there.