Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Joe McPhee and Hamid Drake - Keep Going (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018)

Recorded in Chicago during February of 2018, this was the second duo album between Joe McPhee on alto saxophone and pocket trumpet and Hamid Drake on drum kit and hand percussion after 1999's Emancipation Proclamation on Okka Disk. Dedicated to heroic civil rights leaders, the album opens with "Keep Going" which begins slowly with Drake's reverential drum playing, and McPhee speaking the words of Harriet Tubman after a few minutes, his voice stoic and moving. He picks up his saxophone and plays long emotional lines of sound across Drake's percussion, as the music becomes raw and real like the harrowing search for freedom evoked by Tubman's message. The duo's improvisation is stark and  bare in appearance, stripped of any ornamentation, it speaks to the soul as McPhee further punctuates the music with verbal exultation. The title of "Lord Don't Let 'Em Drop Them Goddamn Nukes On Us Lord" may nod at Mingus, but the music is pure in the moment free jazz. McPhee stays on saxophone, and Drake is a whirlwind on the drum set, taking the music into a very energetic state, echoing the randomness of the modern world. McPhee digs in deeply, his saxophone full of life and energy, and Drake is his ideal partner, his arrangement of rhythm and pacing precipitates the ever changing improvisation. Each musician develops a solo track, and Drake's "Endangered Species" has subtle and gentle percussion, patiently evolving in an organic fashion, like a heartbeat, or waves lapping at the shore of a distant ocean. Drake's rhythm gradually fills in and becomes more complex and louder, but never unnecessarily so, developing a lengthy narrative over the course of ten eventful minutes. "Time Was (For President Barack Hussein Obama)" sees McPhee switching to trumpet and engaging Drake's open ended percussion in a thoughtful manner, using longer tones of warm sound and crisp drumming to make for a memorable performance. "Morning Star (For Lucy Stone)" is a powerhouse improvisation for alto saxophone and drum kit, with both musicians leaning into the urgent theme, dedicated to the prominent abolitionist, and suffragist, and developing into into a boiling Albert Ayler tinged saxophone led performance. Finally, "Makes Me Wanna Holler (For Representative John Lewis)" is a taut trumpet and drums creation, with McPhee adding scatting glossolalia, creating an exciting and moving ending to a powerful and impeccably played album. Keep Going - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.