Clifford Thornton is one of the unsung heroes of the American free jazz of the late sixties and early seventies. Thornton (1936-1989) was a trombonist, cornet player, political activist and educator who performed with Sun Ra Arkestra, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Sam Rivers and a mentor for the young Joe McPhee. McPhee played on Thornton’s debut album, «Freedom & Unity» (Third World/Unheard Music Series, 1967), and Thornton guested on one of the earliest incarnations of McPhee’s Survival Unit (Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II With Clifford Thornton – «N.Y. N.Y. 1971», hatOLOGY, 2006).
McPhee initiated the Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet for the 2017 edition of the Austrian Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen Festival, and the quartet performance at the festival was recorded before an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. McPhee plays here the valve trombone and the tenor sax and he is joined by long-term associates, French sax player Daunik Lazro and analog synth player Jean-Marc Foussat and Japanese, France-based drummer, Makoto Sato. Thornton, by the way, spent some time in France and recorded there an album with French musicians, including pianist François Tusques («The Panther and the Lash», America Records, 1970).
«Sweet Oranges» is titled after a composition of Thornton from his album with The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, «The Gardens Of Harlem» (JCOA Records, 1975). The 44-minutes title-piece begins with an emotional blues solo of McPhee on the trombone, soon joined by the subtle, playful drumming of Sato and the soulful playing of Lazro. But when Foussat injects his alien, vintage synth sounds the dynamics of the quartet shift to a tense and intense mode and all refuse to adopt a clear course or settle in any rhythmic pattern. Throughout this piece the quartet keeps a delicate balance yet a totally organic one between the open, often abstract and otherworldly free-improvised segments- when Foussat uses his voice to suggest a choir of ghostly voices – and the more emotional-spiritual parts. On the latter parts McPhee and Lazro lead the quartet while paying their respects to Thornton’s era sax heroes, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, and obviously, to Thornton’s original compositional ideas. This piece concludes with a touching solo of McPhee on the tenor sax. The short «Encore» offers another deep and compassionate, spiritual free-improvisation, but more introspective one..
A life-affirming performance with surprising healing qualities.
Joe McPhee (valve tb, ts), Daunik Lazro (bs, ts), Jean-Marc Foussat (analog synth, v), Makoto Sato (dr)