Joe McPhee Survival Unit III played its tribute to the legendary drummer and beloved AACM elder Alvin Fielder (1935-2019) at the New Orleans Jazz Museum during the 2018 Instigation Festival. The trio – McPhee on tenor sax and pocket trumpet, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (with no electronics this time) and percussionist Michael Zerang, performed the middle set of a three-act bill featuring the opening act of Ken Vandermark’s Marker (released as «Roadwork 1: New Orleans (For Ed Blackwell, Irma Thomas & Allen Toussaint») on Vandermark’s Audiographic label, 2018) and the final performance of McPhee (filling in last minute for an ill Kidd Jordan) with Fielder and James Singleton on bass. «The Art of Flight: For Alvin Fielder» is a co-release of Astral spirits with the new sister label Instigation Records that documents historic recordings from the Instigation Festival archive.
Survival Unit III set was recorded on January 25, 2018, almost a year before Fielder passed away. It was a tribute to the spiritual free jazz legacy of Fielder, who has played with Sun Ra, Roscoe Mitchell and Fred Anderson, among many others. The distinct strong personalities of McPhee, Lonberg-Holm and Zerang as imaginative free improvisers and all three musicians, together as a working collective over the past sixteen plus years promised – and delivered – a great set that captured the spirit of the Instigation Festival: honoring the history by crafting the future.
The interplay of Survival Unit III is telepathic by now. McPhee alternates between soulful and poetic themes and brief and intense eruptions, and, as usual, every note that McPhee plays is pure magic; Lonberg-Holm adds a twisted chamber aroma and challenges the dynamics with disruptive and dissonant ideas; and Zerang anchors the fast-shifting interplay with clever and colorful percussive patterns. The dynamics are organic and democratic, openly emotional and playful, but charged with restless energy and are totally free. This trio has perfected its art of deep listening and adventurous musical vision. Astral Spirits suggested the anonymous quote «To rush at the wind and having caught it, to soar» as capturing the essence of this set. Indeed, the body and the soul soar with such inspiring music.
Joe McPhee (ts, pocket tp), Fred Lonberg-Holm (c), Michael Zerang (perc)