Trio X has impressed its name on the world of music. Questions were once raised about the meaning of the X, particularly by me. According to American history, the X correlates to the signature of a slave who had no name. For this trio, its name is associated with a definite sound signature. The X has become reflexive, for there is only one Trio X.
In a Sunday afternoon gig arranged by the Arts for Art group at the Clemente Soto Velez Center, Trio X broadened the small stage on which the group performed. Dominic Duval, on bass, Jay Rosen, on drums, and Joe McPhee, on saxophones, placed themselves as would be boundary markers on a road. Each player’s position was firmly entrenched but each player related to the other through their varying convergence in the music.
The character of Duval’s entrance was parabolic. Small delicate plucking, initiating the rhythm, was followed by hefty pizzicatos whose resonance eventually swooped down into another set of small gestures. Rosen contrasted this set of elements with light tingling from the cymbals followed by bigger strokes with the drumsticks. He prepared the bed off which McPhee surged with sour phrases on the tenor that moved quickly into lines. The horn’s shrillness cut through the air. The vibrato kept the overtones ringing. The bass caught the waves with a bow bounce. The drums intermingled dryly with a fast ratting pace, accented with an occasional cymbal and snare smack. The horn proved steady in its course. But, then, the bass became big, the drums, quiet, & the horn, soft. The Trio had discovered a place to settle. In this place were broad 2-handed pizzicatos, the swirling brushes meeting the drumskins and the blues. Melancholy penetrated the song, the kind of song that McPhee has crystallized repeatedly.
The group proceeded; each player connected to their instruments with equally dedicated vigor. It was a balance of the sweet and sour on the tenor sax, a full throttle of the drums, a steady, sometimes walking, pizz on the bass. The group transitioned from a unity within the song to an abstract plane. The trio was entirely engaged; it sparkled. McPhee rocked back and forth; he literally spoke through the reed. Rosen sealed a series of horn phrases with a slap on the drum. It was time for another breakdown. There was a pause. The bass moved into dark viscous territory. Duval provided a one-finger grabbing at the bass string to McPhee’s rejoining with the mellifluous tones of the melody. The bass inherited the story briefly. The song became disjointed. Rosen loosely tapped the drums and then the brush strokes came quickly. McPhee again made sense out of the song. Sounds from the tiers of Rosen's tiny cymbals predicted the closing, which ensued as Duval plucked three distinct notes.
For the next number, Rosen started. His brisk, direct strikes from the snare to the hi-hat collided with the husky pounding of bass drum. He snapped his brushes on the skins of the tom and snare. McPhee directed the bell of his soprano sax to the floor. Its piercing sound was focused. Rosen maintained the pulse, hitting the edge of the snare with his drumstick. McPhee arched his fingers over the valves of the horn to create a high-pitched line that floated over a solid pulse. The bass worked concurrently with this single motile line, then took it. Duval played the bass like it was a guitar. Slow, stunning strums gave entry to McPhee’s tenor as his fingers pressed open the valves and he blew resoundingly. Duval began to pluck the strings more tautly and filled the space opened by McPhee’s pause. McPhee came back. His valving became the content of the music. Rosen brushed the drums, tapped them and vibrated the hi-hat. McPhee screamed through the reed of his sax. All of the instruments let go. Each player filled his own space in congruent bliss. Chimes, gongs and huge, bloated tones intertwined to usher the music to its conclusion. Duval patted his chest to cross into silence.
Hearing a thunderlike clap coming from the audience, McPhee’s choice for the last piece was made by association. He built the tune of "Rainy Day Sunday" slowly on his tenor. The bass, Duval played with careful, elegant fingering. He provided a languid string medium through which McPhee could contain, and then deconstruct the tune, moving it around like paint. One sonorous hue melted into the other. The bass resonated hollow. Rosen tapped the drums, lightly and delicately. As the Trio had begun, so they closed... at peace, having weathered the tempest.
How to seize moments of time secure one’s identity with it. How Trio X addresses that process is safely in place. The act of savoring the extraordinary product of that process endows it with memorable dimensionality.