InReview … Charles McPherson “The Journey”

Extracted from Jazz Avenues January/February 2015 BLOG by Steve Monroe

Expertise never gets old. It even blooms new flowers when surrounded by newer cohorts, as exemplified by “The Journey,” the soon to be released (Feb. 17) recording by veteran master saxophonist Charles McPherson on The CAPRI Records Ltd.

McPherson, a top-shelf performer in the bebop and hard bop tradition for more than half a century, as a leader and with Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, Barry Harris, Art Farmer and many others. “His lyrical and virile improvising throughout the recording asserts that the career upswing that began for McPherson when he added passionate alto statements to the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s 1998 Charlie Parker bio-pic, Bird, followed by the excellent all-star albums that came in the film’s wake, remains in motion,” says the CD’s publicity.


“The Journey” is one of those recordings where it is hard pick out highlights – because almost each tune stands on its own two feet as a distinct, original crafting of musical surprise — the opening “The Decathexis From Youth (For Cole)” by pianist Chip Stephens grabs you immediately. McPherson’s authentic searing alto sounds on the tune let you know you are in for a treat and his bandmates, Stephens, Keith Oxman, tenor sax, Ken Walker, bass and Todd Reid, drums, all accompany, and push, and distinguish themselves very well along the way.
“Elena” is a taste of classic sax melancholia from McPherson’s alto, his lyrical readings majestic and glowing, flowing with Stephens’ empathetic touch on piano, then harmonizing with Oxman before taking off solo for spirited flights on “Spring Is Here.” A treasure is McPherson’s own “Manhattan Nocturne,” bringing visions of the yellow streams of taxis, and their horns with McPherson and Oxman’s horns, the nightlife glitter, the sweeping landscape of humanity—yes you can see it in the music. Bassist Walker shines with his own lyricism, underpinning the uptown, downtown runs of piano and horns. “Au Private” is a pure bebop jam, and “I Should Care” pure ballad mastery by McPherson’s ever-reaching alto soars.
“The Journey” whips along behind the horns and Reid’s fine work, including his deft cymbal swishings. And “Tami’s Tune” is a gem of an original by Oxman, powered by Walker’s throbbing symphony on bass, with “Bud Like” making it a wrap, McPherson squeals/squawks rolling over Stephens’ crisp work on piano.
As the publicity tells it, “The origins of The Journey can be traced to a fortuitous meeting that occurred at a musical clinic, featuring McPherson among others, at the Denver, Colorado jazz club Dazzle. There he met the saxophonist and high school instructor, Keith Oxman. Musical encounters with Oxman and local musicians Stephens, Walker and Reid, were so successful that the veteran saxophonist encouraged a recording [that was done April and May 2014] to document the obvious connection that the five musicians had so quickly established.”
A solid connection for sure, makes “The Journey” a collector’s must for a McPherson fan, or anyone into bop bop bopping along.