Joe McPhee

Black Magic Man

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The first album issued by hatHUT, recorded at the same concert as Nation Time, Black Magic Man evinces a McPhee coming very much out of the ecstatic free jazz of the time (especially the late John Coltrane and Albert Ayler) but also wrestling with the implications of rock and the use of electronic instruments in jazz. The rockish tracks were relegated to the companion album, however, while the pieces here consist of solid, muscular free jazz. McPhee's tenor on the title composition is surging and roaring; he would come to develop greater touch and control, but his passion is already in full flower. "Song for Laureen" starts out much closer to the sort of music being played by musicians like Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell at the time (and being issued on the Strata East label): soulful and straddling the divide between mainstream and avant-garde. Here, the melody, gorgeous and heartfelt, owes a bit to Coltrane's classic "Naima," but McPhee quickly takes it outside into highly abstract and chaotic regions before delicately reining it back in. The rhythm section gets a bit clunky now and then; none of the musicians are truly in McPhee's league. Pianist Mike Kull, especially on the side-long "Hymn of the Dragon Kings," comes very much out of Cecil Taylor but without the latter's grace. The drum tandem attempts some aggressive soloing and does generate some excitement, but more out of sheer enthusiasm than anything else. The closing track ends mid-percussion solo, seemingly as though the tape had simply run out. McPhee would go on to greater things, but fans of his will definitely want to check out this seminal work.

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