I went to this gig with a clear mindedness that allowed me to hear in a way that carried no expectations. Trio X is finding its own voice. It is a voice that balances dynamics, that carries both soft and brash expressions and an increasing camaraderie of interaction. The bass monitors and maintains a level of rhythmic form, often going off on its own to speak furiously, but not without even temperament. The drums are a continual, gentle, sometimes mildly brash, yet unobtrusive, part of the "rhythm section". (Both the bass and the drums transcend this role.) And the tenor sax offers a strong, bold sound that is unquestionably rooted in itself.
The first set began with the sound of a bowed cymbal. A tune was plucked out on the bass and became a means to set a rhythm. Chimes, a rattle of shells on a string, bells, brushes on the snare, a pass on the thumb piano, and a touch of the triangle delicately ushered in a phrase on the tenor sax. Duval accompanied, fanning the bass strings with his fingers. There was a break. Silence. Then the tenor spoke another set of notes. Break. Silence. McPhee blew a multiplicity of notes, blatantly stating the content of the piece. Split tones raised the pitch. The rhythm section quickened the pace. The tenor swerved: McPhee blurted all over the register of his horn. Rosen batted at the tiny hi-hats. Everyone was keeping up with everyone else. Duval’s left hand went up and down the neck of his instrument. McPhee shot out notes through the reed that had a strained nature. This sound became a song. The bass cut the beat in half. The drums became more steady as Rosen pounded the snare. McPhee blew separated notes moving up the register. There was a change in tempo. McPhee stepped out.
Duval fanned the bass strings then switched to bouncing and slipping the bow above the fret to make squeaking high pitches that fluttered as McPhee re-entered with a dissonant fluttering on his horn. Rosen moved all over the drum set with everything but drumsticks. Duval was all over his bass. McPhee came to a place where he was treading water. The bowing on the bass moved down in pitch. Rosen scraped his fingers on the the skins. McPhee played a deep, gorgeous series of notes where overtones rang out and touched my inner being. Slowly the rhythm picked up again. The bass interweaving with the tenor created a stretch of longing musical lines. Duval plucked the bass strings to match Rosen’s hits of the cymbals. With a rattling and a switch to the brushes Rosen coincided with McPhee’s melody. That melody, McPhee slowly de-constructed, then rebuilt. The birds reigned. The bass was winging, the drums were beating, the tenor was tweeting. The drums almost reached silence. McPhee blew one note after the other to match an increased pace until the beat changed to a steady 4/4. The tenor still sounded one note after another and went out as Duval closed with a plucked climb up the bass string register.
McPhee trilled high single notes on the pocket cornet to begin the second piece. The sound stopped. McPhee valved air into the microphone and began to whistle through the mouthpiece of the horn. His hand was over the horn's bell. His fingers moved fast on the valves. The birds were singing again. The bass followed: a stick was inserted behind the strings to raise the pitch as the bow moved over them near the fret. Rosen tapped his group of percussion instruments, one at a time. McPhee still blew single notes and moved the tones to midrange. He hardly moved the valves. Duval stretched out deeper tones with the bow to make one note that emanated from below the fret. The chimes pulled the left and right channels together. McPhee squeezed out an assemblage of notes that moved into a "cornet" phrase which gradually changed to pitched air. Duval’s bass fluttered to reach the same space as McPhee’s cornet. Rosen brushed on wood, then there was a tinkling sound. A clunk of the cymbal signaled the home stretch. McPhee had the tenor; it rang out strong ostinatoes until it reached a total change in tune. The drums continued their rounds; the bass countered McPhee and progressed into a recognizable rhythm. McPhee stopped playing the tenor to take a view of the other instruments. Then on the horn, he uttered out a song, a few split tones, and high to low notes. The waves the tenor made increased; the sound kept collapsing and standing up again. Duval’s fingers were fast, all over the bass strings. Rosen stayed on the surface so that the others could fly. Duval plucked out the last of the piece.
The third part of the set had a high rhythmic content. The tenor played a melody, whose first phrases were striated, but which exhibited some familiarity. The tune was derived from many and made into a McPhee composition. Rosen sat this one out.Duval played a one-strum-two-strum repetition, changing the beat division in compliance with McPhee’s melody. At one point, there was a meaningful bridge of silence and then the musical moves to proceed to a close.The depth of the sound of the saxophone was unbelievable. McPhee creates a sound that is far more reedy than brassy, which, therefore, endows it with an all-embracing warm characteristic. The clarity of tone exists undeniably but at the same time does not carry sharpness that one would associate with the tension that comes with particular embouchures.
The second set included a guest appearance with trumpeter Roy Campbell. It was joyous, rhythmic, and Monk. Campbell and McPhee worked well together on brass. McPhee used his tenor to decorate the straight line direction of Campbell’s trumpet.Campbell’s form is inherently forward and direct. Rosen and Duval participated in a steady fashion, but laid back to give Campbell and McPhee the reins.
This performance made me happy. The innate high standards of this music I can expect. There is not a waiver in quality and a growing integrity that comes with the three players working together more and more. I look forward to the next time that I can hear the group. I hope that that time is soon.