Feb 19, 2015
One of the last authentic practitioners of bebop saxophone, Charles McPhersonremains at the top of his game. On his new album The Journey, McPhersondemonstrates all the vigor, inventiveness, technical dexterity and expressive warmth that drew attention to this brilliant alto stylist during his formative associations with Charles Mingus, Barry Harris, Pat Martino and Art Farmer. The vitality, wit and sheer power of his playing on The Journey belie the fact that McPherson has been in the public eye since the early 1960s. 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. Working with a Denver-based contingent of estimable musicians including saxophonist Keith Oxman, pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid, McPherson demonstrates his laudable command of the bebop idiom, transforming original tunes, songbook standards and bop classics into fresh, invigorating fare.
The origins ofThe 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 to document the obvious connection that the five musicians had so quickly established. The April and May 2014 sessions produced a strikingly comfortable blend of standards (“Spring Is Here,” “I Should Care”), McPherson originals (“Manhattan Nocturne,” “The Journey,” “Bud Like”), work from both Oxman and Stephens, and a shout out to McPherson’s deepest influence, Charlie Parker (“Au Privave”).
McPherson is not stopping with the new CD and supporting live shows, which will take him to Europe. He recently wrote a bebop/Afro-Latin score for the San Diego Ballet entitled “Sweet Synergy Suite”, which will premiere this month. And in what has to be one of the ultimate compliments, Donnie Norton, a doctoral candidate to the Universithy of Northern Colorado is writing his dissertation on McPherson’s career and musical style.
Charles spoke to me from his home in San Diego, and we talked not only about The Journey, but his memories of working with legends like Mingus, Farmer, and the late Mulgrew Miller. Podcast 466 is out conversation, supplemented with musical selections from the new CD (“Manhattan Nocturne,” “The Journey”) as well as his work as a sideman with Mingus (“Reincarnation Of A Lovebird No 2”).