Music Brief: Charles McPherson’s ‘The Journey’

The JourneyExtracted from the ABQ Free Press article by Richard Oyama

The science of bebop was cooked up in labs like Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem in the mid-20th century. That qualifies it as American classical music. “The Journey” testifies to bebop’s enduring legacy and its extension.

Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson directly honors the tradition with Charlie Parker’s “Au Private.” He displays a Bird-like fluency and speed without being imitative. But this excellent group – McPherson; Keith Oxman, tenor; Chip Stephens, piano ; Ken Walker, bass; and Todd Reid, drums – is remarkably tight and cohesive on up-tempo numbers like “Au Private” or ballads such as “I Should Care” when McPherson has the chance to unfurl his flag of glorious romanticism.

All of this music is exquisitely played. In jazz that means the players are intently listening – to themselves, and others. Which sounds like a pretty good working definition of what democracy in America should be. And these musicians are creating art and architecture on the spot.

You try it.

McPherson has a warm, gorgeous tone. His own compositions like “Manhattan Nocturne” have an urbane sophistication. He and Oxman make beautiful harmonies.

McPherson met Oxman at a jazz club in Denver. Encounters with other local musicians followed. That was the genesis of this group. That alone gives me hope that there ‘s still creative space out there.

There are fewer and fewer venues like Outpost Performance Space for live jazz in the country of its birth, its market share shrinking. I’d venture to suggest that this music’s continued existence is as vital as preserving our language. Because, no lie, jazz is its own complex language with grammar,
syntax and idiom.

McPherson is a supreme master of that language and his simpatico group was born to bop with him. The alto saxophonist can be heard on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker bio-pic. If you can imagine – or better yet, ask Colleen Corrie or Dave Chapman at Charley’s 33s and CDs on Menaul to order it for you – “The Journey” has alchemized bebop’s postwar agitation into something even more sublime and reflective for our late cultural moment.

Bird, after all, lives.

Richard Oyama’s first novel is entitled “A Riot Gain’ On.”