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Joe McPhee and Survival Unit II: At WBAL’s Free Music Store, 1971

Recorded and broadcasted live six weeks after the tragic Attica State Prison incident, this performance by saxophonist Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II provides a stirring soundtrack for Black America’s turbulent late 60’s and early 70’s period. A time marked by social upheaval and misguided violence, the music on this program evokes all the dystonic madness of rebellion, the wailing yearning of the blues, and spiritual beauty of deliverance.

“Message From Denmark,” and “The Looking Glass I” are the sets most volatile outings. The cantankerous “Message From Denmark,” features McPhee setting the mood with a piercing trumpet solo followed by a tonal exorcism by McPhee along with horn players Byron Morris and Clifford Thorton. The climax rises to startling heights with percussionist Harold E. Smith arresting solo which amazingly sounds like a military arsenal. Equally powerful is the eerie prerecorded/live ensemble collaboration “The Looking Glass I” which finds McPhee delving deeper in the reflective realms of dissonant harmonies, earsplitting tonalities, and terrifying shrieks. The quiet and strangely alluring, “Song For Lauren” is without a doubt the sets most amicable and rewarding offering. McPhee’s soloing on “Song For Lauren” is simply beautiful even during its tempestuous moments. The song also features a disjointed yet thoroughly romantic solo from pianist Mike Kull.

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