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Joe McPhee: In the Spirit

Free jazz veteran Joe McPhee may surprise some listeners with this CD, containing spirituals or spiritual-like material, including “Deep River,” “People Get Ready,” “God Bless the Child” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” McPhee plays tenor and soprano saxophones in a group including Joe Giardullo, soprano sax, flute and bass clarinet, and bassists Michael Biaio and Dominic Duval. This unusual instrumentation and the lightness of the ensemble sound, compared to that on albums by most other ’60s free jazzers, makes the CD interesting. McPhee plays tenor on only two tracks, and even displays restraint. His and Giardullo’s improvising doesn’t always adhere to changes, although they try to maintain the mood of the selections, which is mostly contemplative and gentle. There’s a lot of dialog going on here between all four participants. Band members seem to enter and exit the ensemble work like people at a party going from one conversation to another. On “Astral Spirits” McPhee opens up more. Maybe one more extroverted track would have helped the CD, which sometimes gets too subdued, but it’s a fine effort nevertheless.

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