Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee is one of the free-jazz greats, playing with everyone from Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson, to Matthew Shipp. On Barrow Street Blues by Joe McPhee Survival Unit III he plays reeds and brass and is joined by Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang. This is an abrasive, spiritual and beautifully unhinged jazz suite from these legends.
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- Barrow Street Blues by Joe McPhee Survival Unit III
8/10 Robin Staff review, 19 January 2016
Introducing Joe McPhee Survival Unit III, the finale in a trilogy of disaster movies about McPhee playing really good free-form jazz in order to save all of our souls. Alternatively you can reject my film pitch and instead listen to this album by the Joe McPhee Survival Unit III, a trio comprised of the legendary and in this case eponymous artist, plus his friends Fred-Lonberg Holm and Michael Zerang. With this lot on the record and McPhee at the helm -- an artist who's done things with sax deconstructionist Pete Brotzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Evan Parker, Matthew Shipp and everyone else who’s ever existed -- you can trust that ‘Barrorw Street Blues’ will be a gnarled but furiously intense jazz excursion.
Beginning with disparate, coalescing and detaching acoustic noises -- from scraped and buzz-cut strings to dissonant sax motifs, plus chaotic bursts of percussion -- this record rides off into the sunset very, very slowly, its first piece resting on fragmented minimalism before becoming a hellish improvisational party. These pieces, recorded with minimal treatment to the acoustics of the room, gain their tension and fury from their live, unprepared feel -- the way the sax and soul-sucked strings come in on “Nothing Left To Loose” is left raw in the mix, so that when these noises ascend, with all their nauseating discordance, it sounds like the hell exists in the practice room itself.
This record’s attempt to redirect the blues -- to remind us that “the blues isn’t always about sadness”, as the insert suggests -- is dedicated to Ornette Coleman and his part in McPhee’s music. Considering it’s one of the most intense and disjointed of McPhee pieces, full of noisy vignettes and panting refrains amidst the brass (“Rattle Snakes and Roaches”), the tribute only seems right. On this record, McPhee and co. are reinventing through trial and error.
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