Unheard Music Series/Atavistic
Joe McPhee is often in danger of being at the other pole of what happens to influence without depth and impact without complete understanding of why the paradigmatic expression emerged in the first place. It is ironic that the title of this CD, Nation Time, and the first piece carry a phrase that I first introduced as a political statement animated by the Black Liberation Movement. The phrase was most visible when it was projected by the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., and subsequently as the title of a Word-Music album.
McPhee, past the cry of "Nation Time," tries to stretch his essentially rhythm-and-blues shaped mainstream musical approach into the frenzy and force he identifies with that first call. His blunt funkiness and insistent tunefulness does save him from the still life of Brotzmann and the other neo-academic "outs," but finally the whole of the music is limited by a confused and incomplete use of his materials. Nation Time settles, overall, into a restatement of funk cliches hoisted occasionally by flashes of "the new." So that despite the call for "the new," R& B cliches obstruct the shaping of something truly fresh. Still, when he blue screams our old call "What Time Is It?" which was to be answered by the album's title, it does put me in mind of more dynamic times. Would that they were more completely expressed in this music.