ERA [CAA​-​033]

By Joe Morris & Joe McPhee

Album: ERA -- Joe Morris


Catalytic Artist Albums

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“Joe McPhee and I first played together in 1984. Over the years we’ve managed to do things when we’ve had the chance. For many of those encounters I played guitar, then sometimes bass. Last year, during the pandemic, the pianist Jamie Saft arranged a recording session for the three of us at his studio. He asked me to play drums. While it wasn’t the first time I played drums with Jamie, it was the first time with Joe. I managed to survive that session. And that is what led to me asking Joe to do this recording.

While it is definitely a bold thing to ask Joe McPhee to record a duet with me on drums, my understanding of Joe and his unique approach to his instruments and to music in general made it a very logical decision. Joe McPhee is one of the few musicians I’ve known who is totally open to making music in any situation, with anyone. It seems to me that his main criteria is camaraderie and artistic credibility, simply put, a kind of “let’s do our best to make it sound good by working well together and helping each other” approach.. There’s never a weird burden of any specific technical demand, except maybe “please don’t box me in”. During the Saft session (which had me and Joe playing outside on an unusually warm November afternoon) Joe implied that I had done alright because I didn’t box him in. That said, I never would’ve asked him if I didn’t think I could do it.

To date, this is my 5th recording on drums. I’ve been playing them for years, at home. I started upright bass at 45 years old, so why not drums in my 60’s? A few years ago I had a kind of technical breakthrough and began to get more control, playing more intentionally. The pandemic gave me plenty of time to practice. As a conservatory instructor I’ve had a lot of drum students who come to me to learn specific things about Free Music. Like many musicians I study all of the instruments, but never with an ear for what is supposed to be done, always on what is being done, and so I am able to explain and demonstrate to some degree the technique of specific drummers who happen to matter to me. They are the sources, the models, that have guided me on this instrument. Another model, for broader reasons, is Joe McPhee. Of course his playing is inspiring, and so is his independence. His route to music is unique and his course through his career is too. At 80 years old he has an almost boyish enthusiasm and willingness to be open to new things and especially to the surprise that happens with the best improvised music. He often follows a gig or session with an email saying “Thanks for letting me relive my childhood.” I think I speak for every musician who has played with him and every fan who listens to him when I say that I have never heard him do the same thing twice. Sure, he has a sound on saxophone and trumpet, but he repurposes them for every performance. The only way to be that unpredictable is to have a mastery based on employing very particular material in spontaneous response to the moment you are living in. True openness.

During breaks in our very enjoyable session, done in the same room soon after our vaccinations took full effect, we discussed the past year as the end of one era and the start of a new one. Our mutual gratitude for surviving the virus, and the plague of the wannabe dictator, was expressed in the music. Joe improvised a theme that reappears in different ways throughout this recording, making it one unified piece. It’s like a call from a senior artistic genius, a supremely fine human being, for all of us to start over, to be open to positive change, and try our best from here on out.”  -Joe Morris, June 2021

Joe McPhee: tenor and alto saxophone
Joe Morris: drums

Recorded May 13, 2021 at Riti Studios, Guilford, Connecticut
Engineered by Joe Morris
Mixed by Jamie Saft

Artwork & Design Federico Peñalva

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