Joe McPhee | Michael Zerang | Creole Gardens | No Business Records

Joe McPhee – alto saxophone, pocket trumpet | Michael Zerang – drums

All compositions by Joe McPhee and Michael Zerang. Recorded 24th September, 2009 by Carl R. Moller, live at BIG TOP – New Orleans, LA, USA. Mixed by Todd Carter – belAir Studio – Chicago, IL, USA. Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Photos by Peter Gannushkin.  Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Producer – Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Tracklist: Side A – 1. Congo Square Dances / Saints And Sinners | Side B – 2. Rise / After The Flood  3. Crescent City Lullaby 4. And Now Miss Annie, The Black Queen

All of these title have either direct historical reference to New Orleans or to our visit and stay at The Creole Gardens. Special thanks to Rob Cambre and Kirah Haubrich. The concert and album are dedicated in honor of legendary master drummer Alvin Fielder.

Joe McPhee | Michael Zerang | Creole Gardens | no business records

John Coltrane had it, Albert Ayler had it, Joe McPhee has it:

the incredible artistry to create depth – a true, warm human emotion – at the same time as spiritual breadth- the feeling that the sound resonates with the planet, the sky, the universe. To capture only one of those is already a feat given to few, but both qualities is exceptional.

He is accompanied on this album by Michael Zerang on drums, who demonstrates his fantastic percussive and listening skills on this duo journey. The album is (almost) bookended by a pocket trumpet and drums duet, but one that really smears sound around, devoid of form or clear direction, until gradually, out of the muddy whispers, clarity of sound and basic rhythm emerge, solemn and confident, although struggling at times and falling back in windy washes, but the real thing begins when McPhee picks up his warm tenor, for long longing and yearning notes, with Zerang adding crisp subtlety and drama. The tension increases when McPhee starts his signature singing when playing sax, with the drums resorting to screeching accompaniment, as a dual cry for humanity.

The title already suggests the content is inspired by the devastation of hurricane Katrina in 2005. And it is without a doubt the best musical performance dedicated to the catastrophic event (as by Terence Blanchard or Wynton Marsalis).

How to be all soul and all spirit with just two instruments and remain captivating and compelling from beginning to end may seem like a great challenge to many, but these two fantastic mugicians do it.

The music comes in LP and CD format, with the latter having one track more. Highly recommended. — stef

CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

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LP version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

$ 24.00
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4 thoughts on “Joe McPhee | Michael Zerang | Creole Gardens | No Business Records

  1. It’s amazing that after 40-plus years, Joe McPhee is showing no signs of slowing down. The reed and brass player continues to search out new playing partners (check out his remarkable meeting with the free organ trio Decoy), nurture working ensembles like Trio X or his participation in Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet as well as various sub-groupings of the members, and still find time to document potent solo sessions. From early on, McPhee has searched out duo partners whether with fellow reedists (Evan Parker, Andre Jaume, Joe Giardullo); bassists (Dominic Duval, Michael Bisio, and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten); or drummers (Hamid Drake, Paul Hession, Paal Nilssen-love, or John Heward.) Some of these meetings have delivered uneven results, like the recent collaboration with Chris Corsano, but all reveal a probing mind willing to push his partners while always mindful to avoid bowling them over with his prodigious technique and fecund musicality.

    This meeting with Michael Zerang, was recorded live in New Orleans in September 2009, and is dedicated to master drummer Alvin Fielder. McPhee and Zerang have been working together in various contexts on and off since the late ’90s when they encountered each other in Brotzmann’s ensemble. While they’ve recorded in a trio setting with Fred Lonberg-Holm as the trio Survival Unit III, this is their first duo recording — and the two prove to be particularly apt partners.

    What defines this music throughout is the marked distinctiveness of the two voices and their control of intonation, modulation, density, and trajectory. McPhee’s long-term dedication to solo explorations has provided him with an expansive sensitivity to the nuanced inflection of the entire range of his instruments as well as a keen ear for pacing. Zerang — in his work from full-on free jazz to collective spontaneous improvisations to his percussion solos to celebratory solstice celebrations with drummer Hamid Drake to participation in theater and performance events to composition and sound events — has developed an almost orchestral approach to his extended kit, drawing on the legacy of AACM and drummers like Fielder, Ed Blackwell and Phillip Wilson.

    McPhee switches between pocket trumpet and alto, winding his free flights of burred and splayed abstractions, spirited lyricism and fiery energy across Zerang’s abraded textures, percussive details and lissome, tuned cascades. Things start out with pinched blats of McPhee’s pocket trumpet spattering off of the shuddering waves of Zerang’s rubbed and scoured drum heads. Zerang’s scratched details fill in around the edges of McPhee’s buzzing activity, and as the momentum builds, a snaking theme emerges from McPhee, first on trumpet and then shifting to alto, countered by Zerang’s stuttering free rhythms. From there, the two push off into a spontaneous dialog full of dynamic ebbs and flows from charged flights of roiling intensity to more open, timbral exchange. Throughout this set what comes through is a sense of two musicians synching up to create a true duo music.

  2. It has now been well over 50 years since Ornette Coleman recorded his classic Free Jazz date. The music of open improvisation continues to thrive, as it has steadily marched forward through the rein of nine US Presidents (one of course currently ongoing), the rising and fading of countless ephemeral fads, wars, recessions, moon landings, voodoo economics, the leveraged buyout, disco and the rise and fall of CB radio. So why is it still controversial? The answer to that is complex, and the dumbing down of the cultural terrain no doubt plays a part.

    So we press on, leaving aside for now the question of the reception of cultural legacies over time.

    One of the scene’s most consistent innovators in open improvisation is Joe McPhee. He has held forth for many years as master of tenor, alto, soprano and trumpet, a member of Trio X, a bandleader of stature, a player of striking creativity and inventiveness, a composer of both instant and considered form.

    In September of 2009 he and drummer Michael Zerang played a live duo concert at the BIG TOP in New Orleans. Fortunately the recording machines were rolling. We now have the results of that gig in the form of a newly released CD/LP Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Suite) (No Business NBCD32). The music is dedicated to NOLA legend, master drummer Alvin Fielder.

    The music is in the form of a continuous hour of creative improvisation, McPhee going to pocket trumpet and alto sax, Michael Zerang concentrating on his drum kit. The result is some genuine music of adventure. Echoes of NOLA’s past can be heard as an understated and implied backdrop, but primarily this is spontaneous interaction of an advanced sort. Michael Zerang is limber and articulate, freely creating timeless figuration or dropping into various loose grooves. Joe McPhee generally builds each section around melodic phrases that he uses as springboards to variations and excursions of pure discursive soul.

    Hey, this is one very nice set. Recommended.

  3. In these recessionary times, the duet offers the optimum solution: the opportunity for dialogue and interaction, but with logistics and expense kept to a minimum. Of course, such strictures are nothing new for the avant-garde, those flowers which bloom between the cracks in the marginal wastelands. Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee’s résumé includes more than its fair share of twosomes, with drummers forming a prominent strand. Recent partners include Hamid Drake, Paul Hession, Paal Nilssen-Love and Chris Corsano, but this encounter with Chicago-based Michael Zerang ranks among the most rewarding.

    It helps that both have a well of shared experience to draw upon, not least their 13 years together as integral parts of Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet, and Zerang’s role within McPhee’s Survival Unit III trio. But it’s not only about familiarity; a large degree of the success of this 60-minute live date recorded in New Orleans stems from how attuned they are to each other’s intent. Zerang, in particular, probes, prods and cossets, bringing all his rhythmic acumen to bear. His easy paced tumbling cadences with their abundant pockets of space provide fertile soil in which McPhee can cultivate his patented mix of visceral abstractions and extemporized melodicism.

    McPhee continues to develop his use of vocalizations simultaneous with his playing. Used sparingly they pack a profound emotional kick, ranging from screams and overtones to choked cries. At the 15-minute mark in “Congo Square Dances / Saints and Sinners,” the saxophonist’s hummed melodic line parallels a wavering whistle to invoke a touching vulnerability. At the start of the same piece, the pair illustrates a simpatico attitude to timbral exploration, the drummer accompanying McPhee’s stuttering pocket trumpet with eerie moans created by dragging scrapers across his drum heads.

    It’s an approach which recurs throughout. “The Drummer-Who-Sits-On-The-Drum” opens with keypad popping percussiveness matched by Zerang’s tappy propulsion, before unfurling into a driving saxophone motif. McPhee’s cooption of improvised figures out of which he conjures satisfying creations is best shown on “Crescent City Lullaby” where his a capella alto arpeggios gradually link into a plaintive song, referenced time and again through the ensuing improvisation.

  4. Ces « jardins créoles » ont fleuri sur le souvenir d’un concert, daté de 2009, que Joe McPhee et Michael Zerang ont donné ensemble. Ils sont un hommage à la Nouvelle-Orléans que rehausse une entente d’exception développée en Survival Unit ou Brötzmann Chicago Tentet…

    En ouverture, la trompette est distributive et la caisse claire inquiète de récupérer chacune de ses notes sur frottements légers. Mais Zerang ose bientôt des éléments de ponctuation que McPhee respecte au son d’un hymne pénétrant. Il fera de même un peu plus tard à l’alto : ce qu’il dit à l’instrument, qu’il soit trompette ou saxophone, personne d’autre que lui n’aurait pu le dire, ni même l’inventer. C’est que derrière chacune des phrases de McPhee, sereines en apparence, pointe une anxiété tenace.

    Aires de jeu obligeant ses usagers à évoluer en véloces, ces Creole Gardens se souviennent du passage des marching bands et des milliers d’airs qui ont contribué à l’histoire de la ville. Mais ce sont aussi des œuvres ouvertes que McPhee et Zerang arrangent selon l’instant, en carré du recueillement éclairé par d’intenses lueurs d’espoir.

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