Label: Corbett Vs. Dempsey
Tip! * Edition of 500. In process of stocking * Since its founding during the decade of the 2000s, Corbett Vs. Dempsey has established itself as one of the most important labels in contemporary and archival freely improvised music. Run by Jim Dempsey and the critic, writer, and scholar, John Corbett, from their gallery space in Chicago, their catalog now pushes into the multiple dozens, marked by truly incredible releases by Peter Brötzmann, Sun Ra, Mats Gustafsson, Thurston Moore, Tomeka Reid, Wadada Leo Smith, Hans Reichel, Billy Bang, Milford Graves, and numerous others. Running through the imprint’s initiative, is dedication to the output of the artists they release, perhaps most notable in the case of Joe McPhee. To date, they’ve issued well over a dozen albums by the legendary multi-instrumentalist. Their latest - the label’s first vinyl LP - The Mystery J, an astounding series of recording by McPhee accompanied by violist Jen Clare Paulson and Brian Labycz on electronics, is among their most stunning to date, illuminating what vital force McPhee remains in the contemporary landscape of experimental sound and improvisation. An effort of pure sonic joy, issued in a limited edition of 500, it absolutely can’t be missed.
At 80, Joe McPhee needs little introduction. Since his early appearances with Clifford Thornton during the late 1960s and his iconic launch as leader via albums like Underground Railroad, Nation Time, Trinity, and Pieces of Light, the multi-instrumentalist has forged his own path through the territories of freely improved and avant-garde music. While unquestionably one of the great contemporary torchbearers of the African American tradition of freejazz, of any member of his generation McPhee has arguably proven to be among the most willing to venture far from the idiom’s perceived boundaries, collaborating prolifically and fiercely with an astoundingly diverse range of artists over the years; Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening Band, Graham Lambkin, Konstrukt, John Snyder, Chris Corsano, Mats Gustafsson, Susan Alcorn, Ken Vandermark, Arto Lindsay, Paal Nilssen-Love, Decoy, The Thing, John Butcher, Eli Keszler, Steve Lacy, Thurston Moore, Bill Nace, Peter Brötzmann, Michael Zerang, and so many others that it would be nearly impossible to list them all.
Once heard, there can be little question as to why The Mystery J is the first full-length release that Corbett Vs. Dempsey has graced with the glories of vinyl. Stunning from start to finish, its two sides, recorded by Joe McPhee, Jen Clare Paulson, and Brian Labycz in 2014 at Okka Fest 6 in Milwaukee, contain some of the most bristling trumpet work ever heard from the veteran improviser’s lips, each tone placed in carefully engaged responsiveness into a restrained musical discourse with Paulson’s viola and Labycz’s interventions on electronics.
Taking its title from the rum-running yacht on which McPhee's father sailed from Nassau to Miami, and decided into four discrete works - Jupiter, Joy, Justice, and Josiah - across The Mystery J’s two sides McPhee’s pocket cornet and alto sax carve a wedge of humanity against the darker abstractions presented by Paulson and Labycz - two rising stars on the Chicago and global scene - swirling together with an expanse on texture and tone that rests somewhere between a visionary image of forward-thinking experimentalism and freejazz reimagined on entirely singular terms.
Writhing, bristling with tension, and yet somehow remarkably minimal in its final form, The Mystery J joins a growing body of astounding recordings that encounter Joe McPhee leading the pack after more than half a century in the game. Corbett Vs. Dempsey have done it again, and raised their own bar. Issued in a limited edition of 500, this one is impossible to recommend enough.