Gapplegate Music Review – Joe McPhee / Jamie Saft / Joe Morris / Charles Downs – Ticonderoga


By Grego Applegate

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly you will notice that Joe McPhee has been very active of late. And so today we have his vital presence again, on a quartet date, with Joe, Jamie Saft (piano), Joe Morris (in his double bass persona) and Charles Downs (drums). The album is another goodie, called Ticonderoga (Clean Feed 345).
The four let sail with four collective, freely improvised pieces in the best tradition of post-new thing expressive heft. It’s great to hear Joe carry forth with his tenor and soprano on this album. Clearly he is inspired and comes through with his personal way, fluid like crazy and able to create stunning hairpin turns of expressive color, vibrato and non-vibrato, a master of his instruments who both sounds and phrases with a linear conversational logic and fluency that puts him at the top of reedists in the “free jazz” zone.

Jamie Saft is a treat in this context because you don’t hear him that often on disk in this total blow-out vein. He makes full use of the inside-the-piano possibilities as well as conventional note-ing and he creates a beautiful congress with Joe and Joe’s way to get beyond. Jamie is monsterful and masterful here, beyond Cecil Taylor while in some ways channeling his legacy, but adding to it with a less cyclical, more linear horizontality.

I’ve said this before about Joe Morris on bass but I will say it again because it still has relevance for sure: that he is the kind of bassist who can, in the language of pitching in baseball, “expand the strike zone,” that in other words he creates a busy and cogent foundation of expanded tonality that allows the soloists to go wherever they will in terms of key center and beyond and make it all seem inevitable and right. And he does it all with a rhythmic all-over quality that lets the band go in time wherever they will, too, freely.

Charles Downs has that special all-over quality on the drums as well. He establishes a multi-present open rhythmic space and ever varies it while using the kit sensitively for all the sound fields he uncovers at any point in timelessness. Whew.

And in this quartet setting all four get a oneness of result that takes years to do right like this. I never tire of exceptional freedom sets of this sort, because there is a continuity of variability and there is nothing to tire of–for there is never just one thing happening. Like the best free players, they all are bent on creating a confluence born of an open totality, an infinite variability within the free jazz parameters they come out of, which takes all of the past and makes it present in a future now, if you can dig what I am trying to say.

In short, a free gathering of total togetherness, a whole of great artistry born of linear fluidity and exceptional avant virtuosity. Is that enough? You bet it is! It is an album of vital presence and if you dig the outer realms this will make you smile and play it twice, more than twice!

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