Robert D. Rusch - February 7, 2003
Trio-X first came together to record on May 26, 1998 and the result was Watermelon Suite (CIMP 183). For the circumstances and account of that occasion, I refer you to that recording's Producer's and Artists' Notes. What the notes don't mention is why they called themselves Trio-X. The reason was a somewhat cynical response to the press coverage of events/festivals at which their participation managed to be ignored by the press. The group concluded that they were Trio-X, the unknown, unrecognized, and unacknowledged participants. This kind of critical ignorance is an old story in the arts and, like most artists, though frustrated, they continued to pursue their passions and perhaps hoped the critics would eventually tune in, get hip, and catch up. And to some extent it appears they have as, after 4 recordings and a number of tours in Europe and the U.S., people are starting to take notice. One critic has even gone so far as to declare Trio-X the most exciting combo in improvising music. There has been less change on the music side of this equation except that this trio continues to get stronger and has developed an intuitive ability that allows them to reach their sweet spot and power of statement with remarkable directness.
This is a group of instant composition yet they often draw on - or, rather are informed by - composed music, be it popular standards or Jazz standards. But, while the approach is standardized (i.e., free [association] music), they have the ability to produce a catalytic explosion that makes each exposition fresh, exciting, and born anew. There are few artists or groups that have that dependability. This is one of the few. Howand why it happens is as much a mystery to me as, I suspect, it is to them.
Preparation before the recording consisted of Jay spending about 3 hours setting up and tuning his drums and then warming up. Jay's set has evolved over the years and on this date now included about 3 dozen cymbals of various sizes. As an aside, but loud enough so Jay could hear me, I said to Marc, "You know how to tell if a drummer has lost his inventiveness? It's when he surrounds himself with cymbals." To which Jay good-naturedly replied, "And I may not even use them." And it's true. A number of timesI've seen Jay schlep in various heavy percussion devices and methodically set it all up, but never bring it in to play. Or, over the course of hours of playing, he would utilize a device for just one brief moment; unidentifiable in the whole, but adding a subtle coloring to the mix.
So, while Jayset up, Dominic took a nap and Joe wandered about the countryside in his car. A greatly spirited supper - a gathering of friends glad to be in each other's company - brought the trio together and by 9 p.m. sound checks were completed. After 5 years, many miles together, and 100 CIMPs later, Trio-X was back in The Spirit Room to see what there was to hear.
From the first note the music sounded so right, so natural that I felt odd that I was enjoying it so easily; the burn without the strain.
They opened uncharacteristically uptempo (That Was/This Is) and then moved into the kind of searchingsound that has been a McPhee signature for 30 years (Journey). Around 5 minutes in, Dominic put down the bow and with his bass signaled a course that, to me, suggested this would be a tour not a short trip. At around 9 minutes, Dominic's bass again signaled another leg of the journey and inspiredJoe to his most lyrical side. Jay intuitively picked up on (or is it set?) the pulse. Then at about 12 minutes, Dominic again signed a direction, but, to my surprise and slight disappointment, he brought it to a finish.
Now, even with all this moving music of the heart, there was a great humor going on (among those in attendance) and it continued between each take, bathroom breaks, waterings, and tune-ups. After Journey, Joe started playing a saccharine "Smile" (though your heart is breaking). Dominic then plucked it out while Jay dropped bombs to accent punchlines that were being verbally and very irreverently thrown around the room; everyone a target to the completely politically incorrect banter. Joe then said to Jay, "You lead it off. We're going to play fast. Bob wants us to play fast." (I didn't.) I told Joe not to confuse speed for length (and called him a few names).Dominic plucked out the theme for Smile and said, "There, now we have that out of our system." Joe said, "OK. Now we're going to play for 30 minutes," and they launched into Jaywalkin'. At its conclusion, I told Joe, "It's 20 minutes short." He laughed. Nothing arcane about this;it's creative and emotive. It's also fun.
One of the more sobering moments was brought on by Blue Moves which came about when, almost immediately at the end of one tune, Jay very pointedly focused across the room at the engineer and simply said, "Ready Marc?" who affirmed, and Jay then set out a mallet pattern. The piece had a rather leveling effect on the prior raucousness and is quite lovely and thoughtful. At this point we opted to take a break and go eat pies, which led to more silliness, and the trio then decided just to go to bed.
The original plan for the next day was to work into more extended areas, though it didn't exactly work out that way. However, with that in mind, Dominic chuckled that the name of this place is creative improvised music and with, and off, the cadence of those words, pulled out the bass intro for Autograph. Joe stood in contemplation, taking in the color and direction of Dominic's and Jay's beautiful 6-1/2 minute offering which prefaces Joe's entry. This group is now able to offer highly refined music without losing any of its invention or honesty.
Following that, the group decided to move into high energy uptempo clustering; emotive with a different energy, and, to my surprise, rather brief. Listeners may hear a button quail responding to the music at the very end of Everything In Nothing Flat (also present at the end of Jay's For Charles Moffett). The trio then regrouped for Rossie 2 Step. With its uncharacteristic Trio-X opening, it soon moved into the emotive comfort zone. A similar quirkiness is followed on Albert's Alto.
The proceedings on this date of widely-ranging emotions ended with the revisitation of a favorite, Amazing Grace. This, their most overtly traditional presentation of the date, is still amazing and full of graciousness; a resilient composition performed by a resilient group. Very nice indeed.