For ON TOUR, the Trio has arranged standard repertoire (including McPhee's own OLD EYES from 1979) in a way that completely inverts the tunes melodically and metaphorically. That is to say, each piece begins with a strong improvisational movement and the cadenza becomes the recognizable tune. This creative mode opens the floodgates for innovation because tradition has been reorganized, reformulated, restructured. Everything is built on contrast. The three musicians speak an evenness, a language, a voice. The group establishes a pattern in this one recording. I do not know if it will ever be repeated. But it is a distinguishing moment in the life of Trio X.
McPhee opens the first cut with valving and finding the tones to play in between the reed and the mouthpiece of his tenor. The sax acquires the color of a trumpet (in fact, I could swear McPhee is playing the trumpet- this happens again in MY FUNNY VALENTINE). Duval contributes in an exceptionally non-aggressive manner, which is completely different from his normally brash attack of the bass strings. In this piece (as well as for most of the recording), he gently fingers contrapuntally or in ostinatos assigning the rhythmic value to the music & creates deep beautiful tones which often skip around on the fingerboard. McPhee interjects repeated notes that set as much rhythm as Duval does. In the background surface is Rosen, whispering with cymbals and rolling on the snare. The tenor comes back in hinting at BLUE MONK and eventually just letting go with the tune, blues and all. Having narrowed the focus, the aim becomes to bring the melody home, which is what they all quietly do.
TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS gives license to Duval's electronic arco technique. This is a contrast to the nature of the title of the piece. McPhee's deep-toned tenor seeps in and progresses in grand phrases with touches of hissing cymbals inside the modeling to produce the main line of the tune. Whence the three leave each other's musical space and then merge when least expected. Three entities, intertwined, yet wholly separate.
In the third cut, MY FUNNY VALENTINE, Rosen flashes with bravura & puts together a valuable drum & vocal set-up for a song that is often understood as kind and sorrowful. In the background is a tinge of tenor tone setting up a tempo. This tinge eventually turns into an intensely varying repetition of the tune. Duval plays pizzicatos quietly in the wings, both maintaining and creating the beat. Rosen comes in occasionally & delicately, with a thump on the snare or a damped brassy shush on the cymbal. (This track reminds me of the way in which McPhee interprets THE MAN I LOVE in his solo CD, AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE; i.e. in a tune that is supposed to translate to a generally accepted definition of loving, the musical definition of loving renders a literal one where it is made questionable and instead of sweetened, often turns to vinegar.)
The most lengthy of the pieces, TRAIL OF TEARS (for Jim Pepper), "references" not only AUTUMN LEAVES, but also SEND IN THE CLOWNS. This piece demonstrates a stringently heightened involvement of the entire trio. No one does not continue playing rapidly and adamantly, for quite awhile, until McPhee plays the second theme. The piece relentlessly presses on, gradually returning to a fast-paced engorgement in sound, to stop with a repetition of the theme by McPhee and Duval.
In the last cut, OLD EYES, Duval opens up in concert with Rosen as he takes off, smacking the snare, vacillating between that and his hi-hats & deeper-toned cymbals. McPhee plays his tenor like there is no tomorrow . He lays out the theme and continues to sing the song where the notes are clear yet simultaneously have liquid edges to them---the notes can sour, squeal, scream. Yet, the notes always come back to the strength and solidity which he authored so boldly. Duval ends this cut with a plucked repeated two-note solo that longingly says good-bye.
Until next time.