The recently released Leo Records CD, UNDERSOUND, with Dominic Duval, bass, John Heward, drums & kalimba, and Joe McPhee, soprano sax, is an example of improvised music composition fitting its conception to a tee.
There are a perfect ten cuts on the recording, each titled Undersound #1, #2....#10. The first and tenth are bass solos, which act as the opening and closing for what impresses me as a set of parenthetical within parenthetical combinations of sounds and instruments. The balance struck structurally is not as blatant as the clarity of the expression of the intentions of the musicians which is never to go beyond the limits of an imaginary, but all too real, sonic barrier. Each cut reflects that the trio is not going to explode in volume; their sound is restrained, not muted. Their sound becomes more intense through the tightness, precision and the smallness of musical gestures than by the loudness or bravura of the strokes on the bass and drums or the ringing of the soprano.
The intelligence of this CD in some ways overrides the musicality, because all the instruments are being played in an objective way such that they become aspects of the swinging of a pendulum that can only approach extremes but never reach the outside limits. Heward’s drums & kalimba become threads in the texture of the music rather than contributing to the "rhythm section" (even though there are sections that bear rhythmic content.). The same holds true with Duval’s bass; the tones come through as variously as the strumming of a guitar or the quick paced tremolos on a cello. The range of the soprano is pressed to almost that of a tenor, but is quickly put back into the soprano rank by the very high pitches it emits. And the melodies that emanate from the soprano are so incredibly, unforgettably McPhee. Yet, yet...through the technical abilities of this trio of musicians is produced musicality and, therefore, is transcended the aforementioned intelligence. So how we are left is either with a tautology or an excruciating balance that defies analysis but which can be perceived if we pay attention.
Every instrument is both in parallel and integrated with every other instrument. The instruments are working with each other, even in the solo interludes, so adamantly equalized that I cannot avoid appreciating what the group set out to do. The undersound bears the overtone of straight-out honesty.