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"Underground Railroad is Joe McPhee's first record, which Joe "Dedicated to the Black Experience on Planet Earth". It was recorded at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, in April 1969, and issued promptly as the first release on Craig Johnson's CjR label. Only 500 copies of the LP were manufactured and it was never reprinted; hence, on flyers accompanying subsequent CjR releases it was always listed as out-of-print and has remained nearly impossible to hear, even for diehard McPhee fans.
Six months earlier than Underground Railroad, McPhee led his larger group, the Contemporary Improvisational Ensemble, in an intense afternoon event at the same monastery, a gig that was fortunately documented. This was, in fact, McPhee's first public performance on tenor saxophone. Among the pieces the C.I.E. played that day was an extended McPhee suite titled "Birmingham Sunday" (referring to the church bombing which has only now, more than thirty years later, seen a modicum of justice), which commenced with a reading of the poem written by Langston Hughes; the agonistic free funk of "Windy City Head Stompin' Blues" gestures at the notorious police brutality at the '68 Chicago Democratic Convention. The Unheard Music Series is pleased to reissue the original LP along with the entire two sets of previously unissued jazz from '68." -JOHN CORBETT, Chicago, July 2001