Musings Of A Bahamian Son

By Joe McPhee with Ken Vandemark

Album: Musings Of A Bahamian Son


Corbett vs. Dempsey

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Joe McPhee is one of the great multi-instrumentalists of contemporary improvised music. His instrumental battery has included saxophones, clarinets, valve trombone, pocket trumpet, sound-on-sound tape recorder, and space organ, but another arrow in his quiver is text. McPhee has been writing poems since the 1970s. He occasionally introduces one into performance, as an introduction or afterword to music, and in recent years he’s been known to do full-on readings, text only, featuring his inimitable sense of dramatic timing intoned in his rich voice. The poems range from the observational to the political to the surreal. They’re composed in rhyme or according to an internal rhythm, sometimes utterly prosaic, sometimes fantastic and flamboyant. A few of them capture the immediacy of improvised music more acutely than any critical writing on the subject, his half-century immersion in the craft of free music having given him a bottomless cup to draw on and his sensitivity to the nuances of language providing a host of palpable metaphors and metonyms, similes and strophes.

The poems are marvels on the page, but they really take flight in McPhee’s mouth. In 2021, during a flurry of pandemic-inspired poetic activity, he traveled to Chicago expressly to record a program of his poems. For the studio date, he invited saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark to play duets as interludes between groupings of the poems. Then Vandermark, engineer Alex Inglizian, and the CvsD team sat breathless in the Experimental Sound Studio control room as McPhee proceeded to perform his poetry nonstop and without repetition for nearly two hours. The result is Musings of a Bahamian Son, the first full-length release dedicated to McPhee’s writing, with 27 poems interspersed with nine musical interludes and a postlude.

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