Trio X - On Tour... Toronto/Rochester 2001
Steven Loewy, All Music Guide
This powerful live recording collects five tracks from a 2001 tour by the group known as Trio X. With the caliber of musicians comprising the trio, it is not surprising that there is a consistently high quality to these unusual interpretations, which, for the most part, merely hint at recognizable melodies. For example, "Monkin' Around" skirts around "Blue Monk" without totally absorbing it, while "My Funny Valentine" just touches on the melody. Joe McPhee is sterling on both tenor sax and trumpet (probably pocket trumpet), the latter of which is not listed in the credits. McPhee grabs a melodic line, turns it completely inside out, like a sculptor who redoes his clay, and then creates something related, but new. McPhee sustains a mature improvisational construct that goes to the essence of a tune without mimicking it. His disciplined, tamed voice is pure pleasure. While he is generally restrained, on "Trail of Tears" he explodes for a bit and then returns to a peaceful, though just off-kilter allusion to "Send in the Clowns," followed by more fireworks. Dominic Duval presses McPhee to stretch; when the bassist solos, he disposes preconceived notions and twists his strings into wondrous blends. The three performers easily sustain interest for each of the lengthy tracks (the longest being nearly 22 minutes) without repeating themselves or running out of ideas.
Trio X, Live in Toronto
John Sharpe, All About Jazz
This is the third release by Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval and Jay Rosen, three virtuosi known collectively as Trio X. It was recorded live in March this year and must set a record for hitting the streets so quickly - all kudos to Cadence Jazz Records. Like previous releases by the group it is an intriguing blend of the lyrical, whether composed or extemporised, and the abstract. Where it differs is in the relationship with the American songbook - this time out we hear "My Funny Valentine", and "Send In The Clowns", as well as "Blue Monk" and more unusually "Try A Little Tenderness", along with McPhee's classic piece for Ornette Coleman "Old Eyes". McPhee is no stranger to these songs - "Valentine" also appears on the trio's earlier "Watermelon Suite" on CIMP, while McPhee and Mike Bisio explored the Monk tune on "Finger Wigglers", also on CIMP.
Some of the tunes arise as part of the trajectory of the group improvisation, almost as if they have been uncovered during performance and then examined to see what they bring to the table. "Monkin' Around" begins very quietly with breath sounds through McPhee's trumpet, before group interplay climaxes with a riffing trumpet. McPhee then switches to tenor but maintains the same riff, before uncovering "Blue Monk" with the rhythm section falling in behind.
"Try A Little Tenderness" begins with understated bass electronically manipulated, before developing into a three way conversation with tenor and percussion. McPhee delicately states the theme and sticks fairly closely to it during the ensuing group improvisation. The piece builds, with Rosen suggesting some march rhythms before winding down to the d'nouement with arco bass and the final affectionate theme statement. Similarly on "My Funny Valentine", McPhee tenderly caresses the tune, at first on tenor, then on trumpet. The piece starts with an energetic percussion solo, with shouts and rhythms beaten out on the body, before kicking in with a fast rhythmic backdrop over which McPhee sets out the theme.
"Trail of Tears", dedicated to Jim Pepper (a musician who fused his Native American heritage with jazz), opens with a sparse tenor and bass duet, with McPhee teasing out harmonics and whistles from his horn, before building into a storm force trio improvisation. Snare drum waves batter a whirling bass and electronics hurricane overlain with tenor cries and foghorn honks. The fury ends suddenly and leads into a quiet passage where the tune of "Send in the Clowns" makes an incongruous appearance. Duval sets up a melodic riff from the kernel of the melody and McPhee mutates this into an ominous tenor riff which heralds another group improv with a sublime passage of harrowing tenor multiphonics. The anthemic piece closes with a stately revisiting of the theme over arco bass.
"Old Eyes" begins with a loud drum solo which turns into a funky drum and bass boogaloo. McPhee's tenor lays out the beautiful theme over the rhythmic quilt, before beginning an impassioned extemporisation which builds to high register squeals and a breathy conclusion, not a million miles from where this fine recording started. Bob Rusch, in his liners to the groups first disc, characterised Trio X as the mellow avant garde, mellow and soulful. That neatly sums up this excellent 73 minute taste of Trio X live on tour.
Track listing: Monkin' Around; Try A Little Tenderness; My Funny Valentine; Trail of Tears; Old Eyes.
Personnel: Joe McPhee - tenor saxophone and trumpet; Dominic Duval - bass and electronics; Jay Rosen - drums and percussion.