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Plan B (Joe Mcphee / James Keepnews / David Berger): From Outer Space [VINYL with DOWNLOAD] (Roaratorio)

Spinning an unusual story, the trio of saxophonist and pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee, guitarist and laptop artist James Keepnews, and drummer David Berger envision the first encounter between alien life and a delegation of earthlings, while giving a nod to jazz's original man from another planet, Sun Ra, with a side-long suite dedicated to him.

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Joe McPhee-tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, pocket trumpet

James Keepnews-guitar, laptop

David Berger-drums

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UPC: 769791968622

Label: Roaratorio
Catalog ID: ROAR 046LP
Squidco Product Code: 25332

Format: LP
Condition: New
Released: 2018
Country: USA
Packaging: LP
Recorded in Beacon, New York,December 19th, 2015, by Rob Kissmer.

Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"At age 78, Joe McPhee shows no sign of slowing down. Plan B is the master improviser's new trio, with James Keepnews on guitar and laptop and David Berger on drums. A soundtrack to a science fiction movie existing only in their heads, From Outer Space finds McPhee and company envisioning the first encounter between alien life and a delegation of earthlings (while giving a nod to jazz's original man from another planet, Sun Ra, with a side-long suite dedicated to him). It's quite unlike anything else in McPhee's vast discography."-Roaratorio

"Lasers differ from other light sources by focusing light in a coherent way, and therein resides their power. Joe McPhee, who is one-third of the trio Plan B, was born in 1939. He's old enough to have had the opportunity to see Buck Rogers in the newspaper, laser guns on projected in black and white on neighborhood cinema screens, and Plan Nine From Outer Space upon its initial release. I can't tell you if he actually did any of these things, but this much is known: McPhee is a science fiction fan of long-standing; he's still making new work and taking real chances at the age of 78; and his playing is laser-like in its concentration of information drawn from his own life, the histories of jazz and improvised music, the complicated story of the USA and its relationship with its African-descended residents; and whatever is happening at the second he puts one of his several horns (pocket trumpet and alto and tenor saxophones on this record) to his lips. There's always a lot of information in every note, reaction, and reference, and so it is with this LP.

McPhee likes to honor inspirations, ideally while they're still alive, but he doesn't quite after they have passed. This LP pays tribute to three figures. One is Judith Lindbloom, who was once acknowledged by Sonny Rollins, who once said he practiced in a room with nothing but one of her paintings on the wall, and whose brushwork adorns several of McPhee's albums for Roaratorio. The untitled image on this LP's cover was done on December 15, 2015, just seven months before her death. The other is Sun Ra. "The Shadow of the Sun Suite," which covers side two, is dedicated to him. There's precedent for this LP's combination of free jazz and electronics in Ra's work, but more importantly, McPhee gets the deadly serious message behind Ra's claims that he is From Outer Space; if humanity, and especially African-Americans, stick to what they know, they know what they're going to get, and for most that isn't very good. In his own time, many people though that Sun Ra was an incompetent clown, kind of like filmmaker Ed Wood, the auteur responsible for Plan Nine From Outer Space. But just like Wood made himself something that others said that he could not be through sheer determination, Ra preached that humans could remake themselves if they let go of their earthly blinders. Space is Plan B for a species that's made a serious hash of Plan A. And whatever you think of Wood's movies, you have to give him credit for surviving in a hostile creative environment.

Plan B made From Outer Space in Beacon NY, near McPhee's hometown of Poughkeepsie, so this is a Hudson Valley affair. The other players aren't people from the European and Chicagoan scenes that he frequents, nor are they especially well known in wider free music circles, but at least one of them, guitar and laptop player James Keepnews, lives in Beacon. Drummer David Berger's zip code and affiliations are unknown to me, but the guy delivers what this session needs even though he sounds rather more traditionally rooted than a lot of the drummers McPhee plays with. One intriguing tension on made From Outer Space is the ongoing resolution of the differences between the musicians' approaches. I'd guess that Berger plays in more straight-ahead contexts, because his playing emphasizes forward motion and swing. But he also a knack for understated coloration, which meshes well Keepnews' pedal-processed smears, and his brushes-on-snare excursions resonate with the more jazz-rooted guitar gestures. Keepnews' guitar playing shifts between acid noise, psychedelic slide work, and big brush-stroke atmospherics; there are a few moments where it feels like someone let David Torn into the studio. His laptop playing encompasses piano samples, vibrant outer space tones and startlingly boingy stuff reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle in novelty instrumental mode.

Some of this sounds pretty unlike the material McPhee usually faces, but he didn't get where he's at by shutting down when presented with unfamiliar information. He has an opposite response to every notion that his fellow musicians propose. Melancholy balladry complements stuttering guitar athletics, hackle-raising multiphonics mix well with plush electronic sound, and wind splayed prismatically through brass mixes puts some backbone into a swirl of synthetic chimes. This album plays out as a serious of respectful challenges and spontaneous negotiations in which differences are understood, not rejected."-Bill Meyer

Artist Biographies

"Joe McPhee, born November 3,1939 in Miami, Florida, USA, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser, conceptualist and theoretician. He began playing the trumpet at age eight, taught by his father, himself a trumpet player. He continued on that instrument through his formative school years and later in a U.S. Army band stationed in Germany, at which time he was introduced to performing traditional jazz. Clifford Thornton's Freedom and Unity, released in 1969 on the Third World label, is the first recording on which he appears as a side man. In 1968, inspired by the music of Albert Ayler, he took up the saxophone and began an active involvement in both acoustic and electronic music.

His first recordings as leader appeared on the CJ Records label, founded in 1969 by painter Craig Johnson. These include Underground Railroad by the Joe McPhee Quartet (1969), Nation Time (1970), Trinity (1971) and Pieces of Light (1974). In 1975, Swiss entrepreneur Werner X. Uehlinger release Black Magic Man by McPhee, on what was to become Hat Hut Records.

In 1981, he met composer, accordionist, performer, and educator Pauline Oliveros, whose theories of "deep listening" strengthened his interests in extended instrumental and electronic techniques. he also discovered Edward de Bono's book Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity, which presents concepts for solving problems by "disrupting an apparent sequence and arriving at the solution from another angle." de Bono's theories inspired McPhee to apply this "sideways thinking" to his own work in creative improvisation, resulting in the concept of "Po Music." McPhee describes "Po Music" as a "process of provocation" (Po is a language indicator to show that provocation is being used) to "move from one fixed set of ideas in an attempt to discover new ones." He concludes, "It is a Positive, Possible, Poetic Hypothesis." The results of this application of Po principles to creative improvisation can be heard on several Hat Art recordings, including Topology, Linear B, and Oleo & a Future Retrospective.

In 1997, McPhee discovered two like-minded improvisers in bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen. The trio premiered at the Vision Jazz Festival in 1998 but the concert went unnoticed by the press. McPhee, Duval, and Rosen therefore decided that an apt title for the group would be Trio X. In 2004 he created Survival Unit III with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang to expand his musical horizons and with a career spanning nearly 50 years and over 100 recordings, he continues to tour internationally, forge new connections while reaching for music's outer limits."

-Joe McPhee Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

""It's so important to me, to be able to hear interesting and creative music," says James Keepnews. "It's in my DNA."

Indeed, it is, although the guitarist, performance artist, writer, and curator of Beacon jazz and experimental music events didn't always know it. His father's cousin was Orrin Keepnews, the legendary producer and jazz journalist who ran the Riverside Records label and worked with Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, and other giants-but as a young kid in the sedate Westchester County town of Pelham, James was aware of neither jazz nor his iconic relative's role in it. "My immediate family wasn't really into music, and my dad really wasn't a fan of Orrin," says the promoter, whose father was a straitlaced insurance superintendent. "He saw him as just this irresponsible hepcat who hung out with the jazz musicians in Greenwich Village. It wasn't until I'd become a DJ on my college radio station and started seeing Orrin's name on all of these important records that I made the connection. He was indefatigable."

Indefatigable is also an apt descriptor for James Keepnews, who discovered jazz on his own in his teens and began taking guitar lessons during his senior year in high school. "I bought John Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard Again! album," he recalls. "I thought, 'I gotta find out more about this stuff.'" He majored in English and participated in the electronic music program at Hamilton College, where in 1986 he organized his first concert, an appearance by saxophonist David Murray.

Keepnews, who is also a technical writer and arts journalist, studied under Robert Fripp in the legendary art rocker's Guitar Craft program in New York, where he immersed himself in the city's experimental jazz and rock scenes. Having earned an MFA in electronic arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he currently commutes by train several days a week to Manhattan for work as a Web developer. His multimedia background occasionally blurs over into his creative side: In 2014, he launched "I Gotta Breathe: A Post-Singularity Blues," a video/music art project and mobile app, and in 2015 he staged "Feed," a performance-art installation blending video, spoken word, electronics, and live music.

Keepnews lived in Peekskill from 1999 until 2010, when he relocated to a loft in Cold Spring. Although he was able to present some jazz events at its historic Chapel Restoration, he ultimately found the latter town's antiques-dominated atmosphere lacked the raw edge he craved. He began casting his eyes and ears slightly upriver, to Beacon. "I would come up just to look at all the amazing old buildings," he says. In 2013, a year after he'd moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Beacon, the owners of local music venue/restaurant Quinn's invited him to curate a Monday night jazz series. "I just started making calls, and right away we had the first few months booked," says Keepnews. Since the series' inception, the club has hosted top names like Marc Ribot, Joe McPhee, Mary Halvorson, Karl Berger, and Andrea Parkins. "Most artists do two sets, and usually there's no cover," explains the organizer. "We just ask for a donation.""

-Upstater (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:


1. Overture 1:19

2. Space Travel 5:32

3. Arrival 4:07

4. A Peaceful Resolution 5:32

5. Plea 4:38


1. Shadow Of The Sun Suite (for Sun Ra) 15:52

2. Aftermath 13:02

Related Categories of Interest:

Vinyl Recordings
Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Electro-Acoustic Improv
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Trio Recordings
Joe McPhee
Sun Ra
Physical Releases that include Download Codes

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