logo   The Brass City (OD12025)
Musicians Joe McPhee — pocket cornet, valve trombone, soprano sax
Jeb Bishop — trombone
Cover and Artwork cover

Photo by: Joe McPhee
Jacket design by: Louise Molnar


1. The Brass City I (12:17)
2. The Brass City II (3:44)
3. The Brass City III (2:16)
4. The Brass City IV (7:16)
5. The Brass City V (4:44)
6. The Brass City VI (5:47)
7. The Brass City VII (3:47)
8. Outpost (for Tom Guralnick) (4:26)
9. Transmute (6:25)
10. The Rozwell Incident (for Rozwell Rudd) (8:02)
total time: 58:44

All compositions by McPhee/Bishop

Recording Info

Recorded Oct. 23, 1997 at Airwave Studio

Produced by: Joe McPhee & Jeb Bishop
Executive Producer: Bruno Johnson
Recorded by: John McCortney

Liner Notes

This song won’t feed the starving,
nor will conferences on hunger,
with a fortune spent on TALKING.
Nor will it house the homeless,
or quench the thirst of millions
who will die for lack of water,
While the Vampires drink THEIR blood.

This song won’t stop our fighting
over bullshit and the finite,
nor keep us all from freezing
when the sun burns through the sky.
Nor will it save our asses
from a fate too cruel to mention.
from our greed and madness,
we have sucked the planet dry.

the weak, the Earth inherits;
and the sick and disillusioned,
and the wounded and the shattered,
and the hopeless without vision,
and the lost without direction,
helpless, lonely,
and the sad!
They will kill the clean young soldiers,
douse the spark of bright tomorrows,
end forever dreams of glory,
lay to rest the brutal lies.
They will satiate their hunger on the bodies of the tourists.
They will satisfy their thirsting on the liquor of their lives.
ONLY BEGGARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

- Joe McPhee, Chicago 1999



After spending years in the peripheral shadows of creative music, Poughkeepsie’s Joe McPhee is making up for lost time by playing and recording as often as he can. For years the fan’s main problem was figuring out how to procure his records — now the decision is which ones to get? If that’s all you want to get from this review, you should put this paper down right now and go buy both; each disc sounds better the more I play it. Zebulon and The Brass City merit comparison because of their marked similarities and significant differences. Both are duos, and on both McPhee restricts himself to a limited sector of his immense instrumental arsenal. He only plays alto and tenor saxophones on Zebulon, a decision which spotlights his exceptional capacity to summon complex, emotionally resonant sounds from both horns. "Kind of a Ballad" fuses somber yearning with a wistful hint of ribaldry, as if expressing all the feelings connected to a cherished but distant memory. "Gracie’s Amazing" is, well, amazing. McPhee’s multiphonics twine around Bisio’s bowed drones to reach past your nervous system and into your soul, together imparting visions of infinite sadness and beauty. It invokes the spirit but not the tune of the hoary gospel standard. The Brass City, as the name suggests, is a mostly reed-free burg. On the title suite that take up its first seven tracks McPhee plays only pocket cornet and valve trombone, while Jeb Bishop plays trombone throughout. They open with whispers and tea-kettle whistles, then move on to explore the whole range of brass sonorities, including those obtained by tapping metal with metal or singing through the horn as well as by blowing on or through it. Muted brass usually evokes warmth for me, but The Brass City has a certain measured distance which I attribute to a major circumstantial difference between the two records. The Brass City is the fruit of a fresh pairing, and you can hear the two men seeking to establish a complimentary relationship as they progress through the record. They succeed, but you know they’re working at it. On the other hand McPhee and Bisio have frequently recorded and toured together over the past three years, so there’s no need to establish attunement on Zebulon — it’s already there. I could write another entire review about the ways Bisio and McPhee manifest their collective sub-and-uberconscious connections, but really, why waste your time reading? Seek and listen, and listen again, and you will be rewarded.

- Bill Meyer, Signal to Noise #12, July/August 1999

Joe leaves his tenor at home for this one and brings out the cornet, valve-trombone and soprano, the better to deal with Bishop’s ’bone. Track one reminded me of the start of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days”, what with both men blowing anything but notes, and from there — microtones, mutes, chords and mumbling as quiet as they can get before falling silent — they do whatever they can to evade whatever you expect. Lovable.

— Richard Cook
The Wire, August 1999

*** (3 stars)

McPhee was to turn his back somewhat on brass after this astonishing tour de force. Brass duos are pretty rare in the canon, but this one sounds as straightforward and idiomatic as saxophone and piano or trumpet and organ, with Bishop providing much of the harmonic foundation. McPhee includes both soprano saxophone and valve trombone but concentrates for much of the time on pocket cornet, and tight, terse sound similar to Don Cherry’s. Most of the record is taken up with a suite of dance exercises for two horns, but there are also tributes to Tom Guralnick, and a delightful nod to Roswell Rudd in the oddly spelt “Rozwell Incident”. Touches of distortion here and there when the horns are playing forte, but generally speaking the sound is very good.

— Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, fifth edition