The Watermelon Suite
Robert D. Rusch - 5/27/98
This session really came about as an attachment to CIMPhonia 1998 (CIMP 173 and 178), a gathering of Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen, Paul Smoker, Peter Kowald, David Prentice, and Mark Whitecage for the purpose of exploring musical ideas.
Joe, Dominic, and Jay arrived very early in the morning, having traveled all night after completing a gig in New York City. After checking in and getting some sleep, they gathered in The Spirit Room in the early afternoon and began improvising on some ideas. Joe decided that in this trio setting he would stick exclusively with soprano sax. Dominic brought with him his standard bass and the Hutchins Bass, an instrument that in size falls somewhere between a regular bass and a cello. There are only a handful of these instruments in the world. Jay was in attendance with his usual assortment of traps, noisemakers, and other percussive devices.
There is a great assuredness to the music here: 3 people relaxed, comfortable with each other and their surroundings, and conversant. The edge here is often understated to the point that this could almost be considered mellow avant garde; mellow and soulful.
The music is presented in the original order of its recording, opening with "Points", a musical handshake, if you will. Following this, "The Watermelon Suite", a bit of a musical still life for which I placed a rather nice whole, but ordinary, watermelon at the base of the mics. Ordinary melon perhaps, but an extraordinary musical response, capturing many impressionistic moments and for me (stretched out, eyes closed) particularly evocative of slow hot summer days. You may find the abrupt end of Part 2 ("The Rind") startling. I assure you it was the intended end and rather similar to the end of Part 4 ("Seeds"); rinds and seeds can be that way, I guess.
"Wecotdo" follows with Jay setting the stage for Part 1 while Dominic shifts his gears a bit for Part 2. Joe is in more of a responsive mood on both.
Joe sits out for "Soundboard Safari", in effect resurrecting The Wedding Band (CIMP 137) for a moment. This outing is an exploration for percussion, amplified bass, and voice. A crazy quilt of lines and sounds which, when isolated by the ear, seem to make sense on their own as well as as a grouping.
Joe returns to the group and improvises a beautiful theme in "Solero", proof, if there were any doubts, of the remarkably instant compositional ability of this music master. Following "Solero", but obviously still touched by its ambience, Dominic develops for the trio another lovely excursion and variations on a more familiar theme. Even here, within that structure, Joe invents another theme which is quite lovely in its own right.
At this point we ended the set and joined Peter Kowald and Mark Whitecage, who had been enjoying the proceedings, for supper.
The trio regrouped the next day, after completing the recording with Peter, Mark, Paul Smoker, and David Prentice (CIMP 173 and 178). They opened with "Putter Piece", a juxtaposition of rhythms and mood. Interesting to me is how, for the first 3 minutes, the group sort of parallel-plays in multi-direction and then, between minutes 3 and 4, seems to come to an understanding which in turn is explored for the second third of the piece. By the final third of the piece the trio, in combined power and unified direction, moves out to conquer this sound space.
The concert ends with the last playing of the 2 days ("My Funny Valentine"), a piece Dominic wanted to explore. Jay establishes the music at a tempo no one expected and which obviously found Joe marching to a different drummer. This should bring a smile to all and again evolves naturally and passionately. Lovely!
I live in beautiful and inspiring surroundings and a concert like this is a great complement to the best of my life. I hope listeners share this luxury of music.
Very creative improvised music: approach joyfully!