Joe McPhee's, AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE, whose title is taken from Valerie Wilmer's book of the same name, is a solo recording, over twenty years after his first solo LP. This 1998 Hat Hut CD has the most integrity of any recording I have heard in the recent past. It is a retrospective of dream plans. It is a total concept. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. (The last record I remember like this was Phil Glass' GLASSWORKS, which one could call an entire work; no part could be extracted. )
Joe's mastery of reeds and trumpet, and piano is incomparable. When I first played the recording, I thought it was the most beautiful collection of music I had ever heard. And I still believe that. I have listened to it dozens of times and the music is always new .
The passion placed in these grooves comes out and literally touches the listener. Each piece manifests a vast range of musical ideas that flow in and out of embracing melodies. The way the music develops has everything to do with Joe's adherence to PO, a form of creativity originally propounded by the psychologist, Edward de Bono (especially heard in, TOK, which I imagine, is a version of the word "talk", suited to the musical "language" of the tenor saxophone). PO is a process of positive operations that allow one's mind to move in "forward" directions: musically speaking, this direction would take the form of notes, and, therefore, be beyond language. In keeping with the fact that language is almost inapplicable here, I can only continue by writing about the spirituality that also surrounds the sounds Joe has recorded. It is ever present.
If a musician has rhythm and a drive to produce a wealth of sounds, you have Joe. His music reverberates, not only with electronic means, sometimes, but also with his virtuosity. Diversity within his instrumental expertise. Every piece has soul. No matter whether it is a serious attempt to convey an artistic reverence (Coltrane's AFTER THE RAIN or CONLON IN THE LAND OF RA) or to invest humor into what has become quotidian (Gershwin's THE MAN I LOVE ).
Joe can take a piece of music apart and reconstruct it without notice (e.g. AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE, 1& 2). And all of a sudden, you are back in the comfort of warmth and sincerity, even though you hear an occasional squeak, clapping of valves, pitched air, a pure split tone (if there can be one), or the tune, for God's sakes, yes, the tune the piece is based on, that projects longing, the blue time, the feeling behind pure expression in music.
The shape of all of the pieces on this CD solidifies them into one statement. There is structure in each, but within the structure lies the boldness and strength of musical composition that is, as well, a result of improvisation. Most of these musical experimentations and explorations are dedicated to people who have impacted Joe's life. This fact speaks to Joe's character, the derivation of his inspiration, his commitment to the music of his mind. His right mind.