Friday, January 18, 2019

Joe McPhee / John Butcher - At The Hill Of James Magee (Trost, 2019)

The story of the enigmatic artist James Magee and his eponymous hill is a fascinating one, and it is easy to understand how it would draw musical iconoclasts like multi-reed instrumentalists Joe McPhee and John Butcher to make the trek to record there. Their performance out in the open at the monument, using two microphones and battery powered equipment at times sounds like well done field recordings, but in truth it is two master improvisers taking inspiration from another artist to create a wonderfully spontaneous work of art. "Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No" is a sprawling nearly twenty one minute lead-off track, featuring long abstract tones of saxophones in space, evoking the enormous landscape they are playing in, by separating themselves and playing in two separate buildings simultaneously. Each saxophone is represented in a separate channel and we hear the musicians walk about the monument improvising, with the assembled audience between the buildings, quite an audacious experiment in sound and recording different for the live audience and record listener. The next four tracks are alternating solo statements from the musicians and the finale is a duet. Solo perhaps alto saxophone "Mine Shaft" has slow and mostly high pitched playing that is very spare and patient and thoughtfully played. It is presented to the listener as a narrative, a thematic offering with a melodic center that is accessible and absorbing. "Paradise Overcast" uses pops against the reed echoing through the microphone and creating a very interesting sound, one that is percussive, followed by long raw sounds which move in an all together different direction. Short, but exciting "A Forty Foot Square Room" uses a rising and falling scouring and exciting solo that moves in and out, forward and back, creating a sense of continuous motion and doppler like effect. "Torcello" sounds like tenor saxophone with brief honks juxtaposed against fast filigrees of saxophone improvisation. Sandpapery toned sounding real like life and the sum of a life's worth of knowledge with the use of space and patience creating long tones of circular breathing spiraling out as relativistic jets of pure sound. The two regroup for the final duet "St. Ida's Breath (Less Her Neck and Teeth)" using fluttering sounds and quiet percussive pops, questioning tones and delicate stray squawks. They eventually raise their voices into song, breathing deeply together in a parallel formation that leads to a much deserved round of applause from the audience. At the Hill of James Mcgee - Bandcamp

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