This gig took a less formal shape than the concert at Rhinebeck a week earlier. The group had been playing steadily together at venues in between. And the result produced a music that was about listening and reveling in its beauty. I could hear the pellucid, signature patterns that each musician has created for himself. By doing so, each has created also a substantial basis from which to spring out and let go.
The band began with short pieces. McPhee chose the alto sax to suit the environment. That did not mean that he could not stretch its sound limits by plunging into the deepest tones he could find. These tones were matched by those of the bass clarinet that Giardullo played and the bass flute that Bourdellon played. Duval made the bass an ultimate rhythm section, both bowing and fanning at the strings and occasionally tapping the wood, to supply the necessary background for the horns. Joe carried a tune on the flugelhorn at one point; Giardullo and Bourdellon joined with flutes and peaked. A melody passed from one instrument to another. McPhee and Giardullo picked up their sopranos to squeeze all the instruments to a close.
In the next piece, McPhee and Giardullo claimed territory with a soprano and a flute duo laying the groundwork for Bourdellon to enter on his bass clarinet. Giardullo launched with the lead on flute to bring in the alto sax and bass clarinet again at which point he changed to his own bass clarinet. All the reeds were united. The sound was exquisite. Bourdellon marched out with his "giant steps", the others followed. Bourdellon did not change the tilt of his head nor his body position for the whole piece; his intermittent tonguing of his instrument varied the surface texture. Giardullo was given the space to wig out, feathering the sound, producing a gorgeous split tone along with McPhee whence a tune emerged. McPhee and Giardullo pressed it. Duval consistently refined his sound. The original instrumentation reappeared. McPhee closed with a clear cut series of notes.
In the last piece of the first set, McPhee played the flugelhorn and Bourdellon, the flute. McPhee held down all the valves and blew air through the horn. Bourdellon equaled the vaporous sounds by tonguing his flute. Then McPhee opened up: he started moving the valves. Bourdellon paralleled McPhee often touching on Romantic phrases. The two then produced the longest blend of harmonics and overtones I have ever heard. The music was so internalized for the duo that the time at which the two would merge and cross and proceed was specifically unpredictable but was an altogether inevitable occurrence. To make the musical circle full, McPhee closed down all the valves on his flugelhorn again and Bourdellon played a low, feathered melody.
The second set started with "God Bless the Child". I have no words to express the way in which this Billie Holiday song penetrated my very being. The group was totally balanced. McPhee sang the song with his soprano. He has played this many times. The tune is in his bones.
Duval soloed afterwards. Putting mechanics aside, he fingered his bass lovingly and more soulfully than I have ever heard him play. He ended with one delicate pluck.
The group pulled out all the stops for the final statements. Giardullo had his soprano and Bourdellon his piccolo. Giardullo's arpeggiation ushered in Bourdellon's crescendo to a scream where there were no discernible notes. The piercing was sustained. The soprano supplied rhythmic content. The bass was bowed and kept the predominant tempo going. Duval played above the fret and below the fret. Then the group took off, winging like a dragonfly. Each instrument moved between low and high pitches. The bass offered a tight, steady pitch. Each instrument moved in and out of tunes with the same intensity, finding one note to hang in unison at one point. McPhee entered with his soprano to begin the descent of the flight. The piccolo clung to its air; the bass lowered its pace in a Steve Reich key-switching mode. The screeching of brakes made the music switch gears. McPhee made the last effort to pronounce a tune.
The closing piece was a classic. Imagine this: from left to right. McPhee played his alto, Giardullo, the bass clarinet, Bourdellon, the bass flute and Dominic fingered his string bass. The bass flute took off on a solo. McPhee and Giardullo moved the notes back and forth to gradually raise the pitch of both instruments. Dominic bowed in one place and eventually and surprisingly found a groove. Bourdellon tapped and valved his clarinet. Giardullo became a standard for the rest. As McPhee took the flugelhorn in hand, the brass distinguished itself from the rest. That permitted the remaining instruments to produce their own avenues, as each traveled relentlessly to a blended summit. The flugelhorn peaked. Giardullo's soprano peaked with McPhee's flugelhorn again. Giardullo changed to flute and sustained the timbre. Bourdellon hushed the prevalent brassiness with his shakuhachi. McPhee echoed and solidified what the other instruments were doing with his gleaming soprano. All the instruments became quiet, then picked up again slightly. Duval's steady fingering kept the other instruments on the ground. McPhee rebuilt the disintegrating structure of the music with his own inimitable repeated series of notes. Bourdellon made a final softening phrase on the shakuhachi.
The town of Rosendale is not on the map. That fact makes me think that I was in the "twilight zone" to hear this music. Either that or I was in a wonderful dream from which I truly wish I had never awakened.