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Getting Better All the Time

The members of Trio X are Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen and Joe McPhee. Each has his own unique sound. Taken further, the group’s capacity to put these unique sounds and their unique temperaments together result in a brilliant and common determination: to make their music unforgettably engaging.

Trio X is a young ensemble maybe seven years old. In the beginning of a new venture, the musicians start as innocents with each other. The more they play together, the more the audience can wrap its collective head around the musical concept underlying their togetherness, which is, for this group, the song. The trio can become so relaxed with what is possible, that discovering new avenues to explore is a given. The melody mainstays, the abstract lyricism and tonal poetry inform combinations thereof to solidify the nature of the trio’s essential structure and open the doors to a lot of truth telling, a lot of variation and peaks of ecstasy.

The reverberant quality of the tonality of Dominic’s bass (he has more than one) lends itself to the distinct character of Dominic’s playing. Every gesture is direct and decisive. No fiddling around. He portrays a reverence to the music and his two trio mates. He hints at his classical background. His approach to the strings produces a deep, broad sound. In a few instances does he tweak the strings to make tight tiny sounds when he plays below the bridge of the instrument. He has a predilection to fan the strings, when he reaches a pace that is beyond plucking. His pizzicatos, no matter whether rapid, repeated or relaxed, are sultry, soft and often undisputedly rhythmic. The pitches he bends blend into his whole vocabulary. His bowing is untethered to any kind of rigidity; his strokes are full-bodied. He becomes a spine to the group.

Jay works a small drumset, sometimes adorned with percussive devices which he selectively and mysteriously tingles. Jay has a sense of timing for retreating but never leaving the musical scene and then letting go with explosive smacks and rolls on the skins and the cymbals. Jay leans towards gestures that take swipes at the drums or quickly damp the cymbals to create a sense of closing of phrases within the whole towards its evolution. His penultimate talent is to render accentuation larger than it is. His instrument set up is simple. And from that, he creates a variety of sounds that you cannot even imagine that he could create. His sound is often that of a whisper. He’s also got rhythm, like all three do. It cannot be extracted from them. This is a primary reason why Trio X works so exquisitely well.

Joe commands a space which embraces all three players. His choice of horns, whether sax, trumpet or other brass or wind instrument determines in large part the mood of each piece that is performed, each song that is sung. Sometimes, the personality, the take on the song, has already been chosen before he enters into the sonic stream. Joe is patient for the right moment to weave his sound into the thread of the musical tapestry. He could be prepared to slice the air with a valving of compressed air for a taste of what you have never heard before and for which you will return many times.

On this night in an intimate, artfully baffled room, Trio X was ripe with expressivity. The tunes that they played were buried in a thicket of abstractions. The beauty of the music was made evident through each series of abstractions that built up to the identifiable melody of which you could hear snippets along the way. The build-up overtook a span of musical time; the build-up was a search for pattern, an unfolding of premise, an array of confident vagaries.

Dominic displayed a range of pizzicato movements, from two note repeated modes, to virtuosic one note finishes, to fanning the strings, to rapidly fingering them in a middle range of pitch. When he did pick up the bow, it was for the purpose of unraveling the layers of arched arpeggiations that Joe so assuredly laid out. The glissandos Dominic played fashioned a support for a continuous deeply penetrating tenor line. Dominic was glued into the musical instances that passed.

For the most part, Jay constantly was moving. He toured his drums either with sticks or mallets. His choice of timing to move the center of his playing from the drums to the cymbals and back again demonstrated his resolute intention. A ringing often rose from either a cymbal or a hidden bell. So did come forth abrupt crackling of the snare. His marvelous acuity to pound out a rhythm on the bass drum packed the trio into a place where synchronicity or harmonies could have become the order of the moment and often did.

Joe would blow mellifluous blues and immediately juxtapose those beautifully strung together tunes with acerbic versions of them, a practice that speaks of his periodic propensity for never staying in one place for a long period of time. Of course, you would long for the repeated choruses he played. You would also long for the breathing that let him hold the notes that would penetrate your very being and which eventually could become only air. His complete marriage to how the music was radiating took Joe to leaning way back as he blew the sax. He moved toward the bass to close the space midst all three players to prolong the groove for as long as the group could carry it. He sang through his sax; he would charge through tremolo after tremolo, arpeggio after arpeggio. He used the tenor as a percussive instrument at one point, only moving the valve arms in a tapping sound somewhat like the creatures of the night were sharpening the depth of darkness.

Somewhere in one of the two sets, which shared My Funny Valentine, Amazing Grace, and Blue Monk among other pieces, Joe was standing in the middle of the performance area. He held two different notes, one after the other, on his soprano sax like he has never done before in my experience of his performing. The bell of the horn went up in the air. Joe bent his knees. Gravity escaped the sonorous atmosphere. It was an exhilarating several minutes. It was the pinnacle of the entire night.

So this trio, this Trio X possesses a greatness that has congealed throughout its brief history. There is no going back. The trio’s motto might be the words which Dominic has once written: Music originates in the soul and the mind of those who wish to share their feelings and thoughts with people they have never met.

You know, I am glad that I have met all three members of the trio, because the music means that much more. There is no going back.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe McPhee and Trio X
  • Concert Date: 6/17/2005
  • Subtitle: An Evening with Trio X
  • Venue: Firehouse 12
  • City State Country: New Haven, CT
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