In his "Artist's Notes," Joe McPhee emphasizes that this recording is "not jazz," but rather "a tribute to an American hero." Whether or not you call this beautifully crafted album "jazz" and regardless of whether you think Paul Robeson was a hero, there is no questioning the powerful emotions and the deeply moving musicianship to be found here. Performing with his established group that he calls his Bluette, the saxophonist creates a sort of collage, in which freely improvised passages collide with bits and pieces of melodies associated with the singer. There are snippets of recognizable tunes throughout, but it is McPhee's remarkable improvisations and his intermingling with longtime collaborator Joe Giardullo that take the cake, as the two players perform almost as one. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be joined by two of the finest acoustic bassists around, Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval, who together add just enough spice to anchor the moment. At times (such as on "1st Movement: Prelude"), the quartet is surprisingly calm, while at others, as on "Here I Stand," McPhee's tenor and Giardullo's bass clarinet go head to head with unmitigated intensity. For some, the highlight of the recording may well be McPhee's solo excursion on the final track, where he navigates three recognizable spirituals with his characteristic depth and creativity.
AllMusic Review by Steve Loewy