Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 3 November 1939, Miami FL) Trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, saxophones, trombone, electronics, composer. A genuine virtuoso on several instruments and a musical theorist, basing his music on theories of psychologist Edward De Bono. Of five albums made in New York State '69-74, four were self-financed on a CJR label, but one came out on hat Hut, a label formed in Switzerland specifically to record McPhee. There were at least ten more hat albums, all made in Europe, combining intellectual rigour, distinctive composition, visceral and austere elements; most were driven out of print by the compact disc, but the most important (Old Eyes And Mysteries '79, Po Music: A Future Retrospective '78 and '82, Topology '81 and Oleo '82) were reissued/compiled on CD. The personnel based around the Po Trio (with André Jaume on saxophones and bass clarinet, Raymond Boni on guitar) produce startlingly original soundscapes. Visitation '83 on Sackville with Canadian musicians was more relaxed but equally appealing.

McPhee is an enterprising interpreter of classic jazz composers (Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus), a skill utilized to great effect on Impressions Of Jimmy Giuffre '91 on Celp. Elan Impulse '91 on Adda has saxist Daunik Lazro, while Linear B '90 on hat Art (with the Po crew) was named for the ancient Minoan language that was extremely hard to decipher. Sweet Freedom -- Now What? '94 on hat Art is a trio with Lisle Ellis on bass, Paul Plimley on piano, exploring the music of Max Roach without a drummer. Although somewhat apart from the avant-garde mainstream, McPhee is one of the most compelling figures in contemporary improvised music, combining and extending energetic '60s free jazz with the abstractions of the '70s, always with a vein of lyricism. McPhee/Parker/Lazro '95 on Vand'ouevre had the trio of reedmen playing six instruments between them, challenging us with the risk of open-ended invention. Common Threads '95 on Deep Listening captured a quintet in Seattle: the longest piece, 'Spirit Traveler (For Don Cherry)', began with McPhee playing pocket trumpet on the day Cherry died. Joe McPhee And Survival Unit II At WBAI's Music Store on hat Art was a welcome issue of an earlier quintet radio concert, capturing him on the way from pure energy to a more mature subtlety; trio A Meeting In Chicago '96 on Eight Day Music with Ken Vandermark and Kent Kessler presented a lyrical side of all three co-leaders.

McPhee has been superbly recorded on CIMP from the beginning of that excellent label, in 1995: on The Redwood Session with Evan Parker, Barry Guy on bass and Paul Lytton on drums, he guested on trumpet; played pocket trumpet on Legend Street One and Two, with Frank Lowe, Charles Moffett and violinist David Prentice; reeds in duos with Prentice (Inside Out), Michael Bisio on bass (Finger Wigglers).

There were various projects including bassist Dominic Duval (b Drwal, 27 April 1944, NYC) and drummer Jay Rosen (b 20 November 1961, Philadelphia), and soon a new group was born: McPhee, Duval and Rosen played a couple of gigs and were ignored by critics, so they decided they must be Trio X, and by that name they toured and recorded. Watermelon Suite was made in May 1998, followed by Journey 2003, The Sugar Hill Suite 2004, Moods: Playing With The Elements 2004, plus live recordings on the sister Cadence label: In Black And White (Ann Arbor 1999, Vision Fest NYC 2001), On Tour...Toronto/ Rochester 2001, Roulette At Location One 2005; plus other McPhee projects: a trio with Duval and pianist Matthew Shipp In Finland 2005, a duo with Duval called The Open Door (a tribute to the late Jackie McLean, named after the club in which he first met Charlie Parker), and several more, a total of 18 titles on CIMP alone by 2008.

Big Dom Duval, father of three swell kids, passed away on 22 July 2016 of a rare form of lymphoma; we do not know whether Trio X will carry on under that name. Trio X's tours to the Midwest and back in 2006, 2008 and 2010 were recorded by CIMP and issued in boxed sets, and there is no better way to find out what today's improvised music is about than to listen to these guys approach each tune as though they are discovering it for the first time. It was rewarding that some of the most interesting American musicians were adequately recorded for a change (see Cadence).