"It's been nearly five decades since Joe McPhee assembled a group of musicians to perform the weekend concerts that would become Nation Time. It was December 1970, thirty-one-year-old McPhee was inspired by Amiri Baraka's poem 'It's Nation Time,' and the students at Vassar College didn't know what hit them. 'What time is it?' shouted the bandleader. 'C'mon, you can do better than that. What time is it?!'
"The music on Nation Time came out of the fertile, but little-known creative jazz scene in Poughkeepsie, New York, McPhee's home base. Two bands were deployed, one with a funky free foundation featuring guitar and organ, the other consisting of a more standard jazz formation with two drummers and the brilliant Mike Kull at the piano. Across the concert and the next afternoon's audience-less recording session, the band was ignited by McPhee's passion and his gorgeous post-Coltrane / post-Pharoah tenor. On 'Shakey Jake,' they hit a James Brown groove filtered through Archie Shepp, while the sidelong title track is as searching and poignant today as it was during its heyday.
"Originally released in 1971 on CjR, an imprint started expressly to document McPhee's music, Nation Time has a sense of urgency and inspiration. Additional material from those December days would later appear on Black Magic Man, Hat Hut's first release. In fact, the first four records on this seminal Swiss label all featured McPhee.
"Nation Time was largely unknown a quarter century or so later, when it was first issued on CD through Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. On Corbett vs. Dempsey, we reissued the album along with all known tapes leading up to and around it as a deluxe box set, but the standalone LP has long remained incredibly rare. Now is the time for a new generation of freaks to lose their shit when settling into the cushy beat of 'Shakey Jake' and answer McPhee's call with the only appropriate response: It's NATION TIME."
– John Corbett
1. Nation Time
2. Shakey Jake
3. Scorpio's Dance
Since his emergence on the creative jazz and new music scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Joe McPhee has been a deeply emotional composer, improviser, and multi-instrumentalist, as well as a thoughtful conceptualist and theoretician.
McPhee’s first recordings as leader appeared on the CjR label, founded in 1969 by painter Craig Johnson . These include Underground Railroad by the Joe McPhee Quartet in 1969, Nation Time by Joe McPhee in 1970, and Trinity by Joe McPhee, Harold E. Smith and Mike Kull in 1971.
By 1974, Swiss entrepreneur Werner X. Uehlinger had become aware of McPhee’s recordings and unreleased tapes. Uehlinger was so impressed that he decided to form the Hat Hut label as a vehicle to release McPhee’s work. The label’s first LP was Black Magic Man, which had been recorded by McPhee in 1970. Black Magic Man was followed by The Willisau Concert and the landmark solo recording Tenor, released by Hat Hut in 1976. The earliest recordings by McPhee are often informed by the revolutionary movements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; for example, Nation Time is a tribute to poet Amiri Baraka and Joe McPhee & Survival Unit II at WBAI’s Free Music Store, 1971 (finally released as a Hat Art CD in 1996) is a sometimes anguished post-Coltrane cry for freedom.
During the 1990’s, McPhee finally began to attract wider attention from the North American creative jazz community. He has since been performing and recording prodigiously as both leader and collaborator, appearing on such labels as CIMP, Okkadisk, Music & Arts, and Victo. In 1996, 20 years after Tenor, Hatology released As Serious As Your Life, another solo recording (this time featuring McPhee performing on various instruments). McPhee also began a fruitful relationship with Chicago reedman Ken Vandermark , engaging in a set of improvisational dialogues with Vandermark and bassist Kent Kessler on the 1998 Okkadisk CD A Meeting in Chicago. The Vandermark connection also led to McPhee’s appearance on the Peter BrotzmanChicagoOctet/Tentet three-CD box set released by Okkadisk that same year. As the 1990s drew to a close, McPhee discovered two like-minded improvisers in bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen- TRIO X.
"He is a stellar improviser, relishing his sound materials so caringly and for so long, the kind of player that invites you to really step outside of whatever mix you're and think and feel for a while." Hank Shteamer, Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches