Sunday, September 19, 2010
I spent yesterday in Cold Spring, NY, a quaint (in danger of becoming too quaint, but as of now still quietly charming) village on the Hudson, some 60 miles north of NYC. Walked a couple of miles further north of town on Route 9D, discovering Little Stony Point Park in the process, new to me, a set of trails occupying a promontory jutting out into the river, with dense, wonderful forest and rough, imposing cliffs. Settled down on a rocky bank, sifting through the ground debris, finding old iron slugs (Cold Spring was the center of artillery construction during the Civil War. The cannons were test-fired across the river, into the flank of Storm King Mountain--the highest point on the Hudson--denuding its face,resulting in the wonderful, craggy visage one sees today. Every so often, they still find unexploded ordinance up there, closing the trails), drawing, reading (Tom McCarthy's "Remainder"--great, so far), looking at and listening to the Hudson.
Eventually back into town, hooking up with Linda (who had decided to come along, spending the day reading by the river), having a fine dinner at Le Bouchon (veal ravioli and blood sausage for me--highly recommended based on this single visit) and then ambling over to the Chapel of Our Lady Restoration, a fine structure perched atop a bank overlooking the river, for a concert by Trio X (Joe McPhee, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen), which had been organized by recently transplanted Jersey City denizen, James Keepnews.
Longtime readers will be aware that my knowledge of Joe's music goes further back, I daresay, than most, having first heard him in 1971 at Poughkeepsie High School, of all places (as it happened, the day before he recorded his WBAI album), meeting him via Alton Pickens in 1975, arranging for his first NYC concert at Environ in 1977, etc. I try to see him every two or three years, though I think it had been longer than that this time--the last occasion, I believe, was with The Thing at Stone.
I guess I've scene Trio X as such once before, maybe more. There was a show at Merkin Hall a long while back, a suite dedicated to Pickens that Joe had written. In any case, I'm not at all sure of their normal approach. Here, as I'm guessing that a good portion of the audience (which numbered about 60, filling the small chapel) were locals who hadn't a clue about Joe's music or post-Coltrane jazz in general, they may have modified and softened their performance (I talked with Joe beforehand but didn't get a chance to afterward, so I could be wrong). In any case, it consisted entirely of standards and Joe took pains to explain to the crowd about the history of radical revisions of same. So they went through "medleys" of 'The Man I Love', 'God Bless the Child', several Monk pieces, a calypso (Rollins?) and closed with 'My Funny Valentine'.
Now, clearly, this concept is not my current flavor of choice and I can't say I was entirely able to suspend that segment of my consciousness which was screaming out, "Why bother?!?" But I did try very hard to sit back and enjoy it for what it was and, doing so, found several very beautiful aspects. First of all, obviously, Joe is an extraordinary musician. He played soprano, tenor and fluegelhorn this evening, all of them beautifully and soulfully. I've probably only heard Duval live a half dozen times or so (including with Cecil) but each time I do, I'm reminded that he's got to be one of the pre-eminent bassists in jazz, someone who doesn't get talked about nearly enough. He was quietly spectacular last night. Rosen is OK though really not my cup of tea, especially in this context. Joe's sound is so rich and Duval's so clean that, in a trio format, I want to hear a "wetter" drummer, someone in the Phillip Wilson mode.
Some highlights: Duval began the set with what I swear was Richard Davis' opening bass line from Leroy Jenkins' "Muhal" as played by the Creative Construction Company, but perhaps I was hallucinating. In any case, it was lovely. Interestingly, while Joe kept things reasonably straight for the most part in terms of horn-attack, the one time he seriously ventured out into breath and quiet squeak territory, on "'Round Midnight", it was stunning and moving. At his best, he brings a true and harsh emotional quality to his music that most others in the field can only dream of. That they played the piece was interesting to me--when I first met Joe, at Pickens' apartment in '75, he played a tape for me, a solo soprano version of the song in which, as I heard it, he played around the melody, using acoustic negative space to somehow clearly imply it without ever touching on it. The other notable moment was at the very end, during "My Funny Valentine", Joe (on soprano) facing Duval (arco) and engaging in a heartrendingly gorgeous dialogue, a wonderful elaboration of the theme, soft and intense.
It was encouraging to have those moments. All of the rest was fine, well-played if not so different than one might have heard 30 years ago. The crowd was enthusiastic (Linda enjoyed it as well, given its relative straightforwardness and melodic content) but I'd love to have heard the trio take it further along the paths indicated by the above moments. Perhaps they do elsewhere.
I should mention that, at 71, Joe looks ridiculously well and fit, a joy to see that as well.