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.


Unknown said...

I've been curious about this group; I have an old CIMP release that pre-dates the name "Trio X", but I'd like to hear more. They just released a 4 or 5 disc set I may have to check out.

Brian Olewnick said...

That was available the other night--5 discs for $40--but I declined. To the extent I can still enjoy this area, I think it would be far more in live contexts than on discs, I'm afraid.

Notice Recordings said...

Hello Brian.
My apologies for not specifically commenting on this post, as I haven't had a chance to read it. I would, however, like to ask you a quick question and this seems the best way to do it, as I cannot find your email.

We, Notice Recordings, cassette label based in Chicago, will be releasing Jon Mueller and Ben Owen within the next couple weeks. I am wondering if you'd accept submissions for possible reviews/coverage regarding these releases.

Feel free to email us ( noticerecordings@gmail) regarding this.

Thanks kindly and take care !

Notice Recordings said...

Forgot to mention that your blog has been excellent reading this summer. Thanks for the insights and reflections--always appreciated.

By the way, I just bought Krieger's/Cage's final Volume 3 & 4 of Cage's saxophone music on Mode Records. What an extraordinary release. Completely unique music and also very well integrated into the current contemporary Sound Art/avant Classical scene. A very thoroughly enjoyable release, all through both CDs. Do you know about this release ?

Notice Recordings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Captain Hate said...

I've seen Joe in three other settings (Trio X is the one I'd like most to see) and have always found him at least very good and usually excellent. How were the acoustics in the chapel? Yes he's in great shape for his age (at least he was a few years ago).

Brian Olewnick said...

The acoustics were excellent (Joe commented on them beforehand, actually). The space is fairly small, about 25 by 40 feet, maybe with a 20 foot ceiling, pretty clean surfaces around, an organ loft in the rear. They do concerts pretty regularly, mostly classical (though Toshiko Akiyoshi is there this weekend). Hopefully, James will be producing more.

Here's the site:

James Keepnews said...

Brian -- Again, I was delighted to see you in the Hudson Highlands and I wasn't aware of how deep your association of Joe went (much less your association with the Hudson Valley!). I did get the sense that Joe and crew downshifted a bit so as not to scare the horses, as it were, much less a generally non-cognescenti audience --and a;so wondered how demanding a "make-it-new" sensibility such as yours would have responded to the "standard" material, albeit done in a terrifically non-linear, non-dogmatic manner. Now I know!

Let me only add that Jay was playing on an incomplete kit, and not one of his own but of my borrowing. Having heard him with everyone from Charles Gayle through Sonny Simmons and of course in Trio X, I'd say he's quite "wet" when he wants to be, and obviously clearly something more of my cup of tea than yours. Guess we'll never agree on everything.. : }

Thanks again for coming up the Hudson a piece. Peace.

Unknown said...

I agree that Duval remains unsung for some reason; he doesn't seem to play with a lot of "A Listers" besides Cecil. As I'm typing this I'm listening to my new copy of "All the Notes", a 2000 Cecil trio date with Duval. He really contributes a lot with both his arco and pizzicato playing.

Anonymous said...

'Saw ,Joe McPhee this past June,and he probably did take it a little further,with The Thing minus,Mats G(sick or something):The Once In A Lifetime Trio-He looked like he'd had a makeover.

'Jazz'-strings get tiresome ,but Duval's,'State Of The Art' holds up incredibly well_