Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The Thing With Joe McPhee - She Knows... (ezz-thetics, 2020)

The Thing, eventually to become a legendary free jazz unit, were in their lean and hungry mode on this remastered version of their second album and in the company of one of their heroes, the American avant-garde jazz pioneer Joe McPhee. The Thing are made up of Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, with McPhee adding pocket trumpet and tenor saxophone. What made The Thing so special is that they were willing to draw from any well of inspiration, be it the history of free jazz, their own compositions or delving into the world of rock 'n' roll. On this album, they lead off with "To Bring You My Love" which happens to be the title track to my favorite PJ Harvey LP. It's a slow, sultry, bluesy song that is excellent fodder for Gustafsson and McPhee who can grind and growl in the lower registers of their horns while the bass and drums keep the processional beat. The Don Cherry track "The Thing" from what they took their name is anchored with thick trunks of bass, with the rest of the band swinging hard on the rough and choppy theme. McPhee slides into an excellent improvised trumpet solo over simmering bass and drums. Gustafsson's raw and guttural saxophone is the perfect foil, branching out on a long exploratory solo with his fellow Thing members, and it is clear why this particular Don Cherry song inspired them so much, as McPhee joins them to bring everything together for a righteous blowout to complete the performance. Ornette Coleman's complex "Kathelin Grey" is a perfect choice for the quartet configuration, with McPhee playing the pocket trumpet that Cherry favored and Gustafsson is able to make the most of the space that is available. There is some excellent bowed bass and tenor saxophone on "Going Home," a track that was often played by Albert Ayler, and fits in well with the band's overall sensibility. The music is emotional and frought with rawness and the old time religion that Ayler focused on when he recorded this traditional song during his magical year of 1964. Gustafsson and McPhee bring waves of sound in equal measure combining the historical new thing approach with steely eyed modernity. A lengthy exploration of Frank Lowe's "For Real" leads the group into an explosive finale on McPhee's own "Old Eyes" where the band goes for broke with everything they have leading to some excoriating full band and solo settings that are just out of sight in terms of excitement and quality instrumental playing. This was an excellent album, clearly a landmark for The Thing in terms of solidifying their presence which would increase many-fold in the jazz world as the years went on. Also it codified their relationship with a respected elder in Joe McPhee who would go on to play these musicians in many contexts as well as providing very informative liner notes for this re-issue. She Knows - Squidco.com

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