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Trio X - Live On Tour 2010

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Artist: Trio X

Album: Live On Tour 2010

Label: CIMP

Review date: Jan. 9, 2013

Two thousand and twelve was a very interesting year for Trio X releases. We heard the very first performances by what was then called the Joe McPhee trio at Vision Festival 1998, released on McPhee’s own CjR Records, and were also treated to the third Trio X tour box set from CIMPoL, an arm of Cadence Jazz. This time, it’s four discs, documenting the band’s activities in late September and early October 2010. As with the two previous boxes (which documented performances in 2006 and 2008, respectively), there is a historical sweep and continuity in the trio’s playing, but given these three improviser’s talents, there’s always a new twist when the group lays down its expected blend of reference and exploration.

If pressed to choose a favorite Trio X performance, I often sidestep the issue, so consistent and instantaneous is the group’s interplay. But on Live On Tour 2010, I actually do gravitate toward a particularly inspired appearance in Waukee, Iowa. The fates were kind, maybe the excellent acoustics helped, or maybe the planets were correctly aligned, because even among improvisers with the long experience these three musicians share, playing with such energy and focus doesn’t happen often. McPhee enters with some rolling tenor trills, on which he then riffs with excellent follow-through while bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen support with a soft but still dynamically varied intensity that’s almost unnerving. McPhee’s own playing is even more wide-ranging as he wheels unceremoniously from honks to caresses with only a brief breath between. Even the inevitable “free jazz” dynamic swells are only momentary as the group creates an amoebically fluid sonic landscape. It’s one thing to put huge amounts of power into playing at top volume, which far too many are wont to do; it’s quite another to play at a relatively low volume while putting out similarly massive energy. The risk is that the music will become defuse, losing consequence as a result. As Duval solos expertly and the others reenter over the nearly 15-minute improvisation, continuous momentum keeps everything fresh. The same is true for the rest of the piece, all leading up to a drum solo dedicated to Tony Williams. This moment of forthrightness places Rosen’s other accomplishments in stark relief. It’s replete with metric swing and its polar opposite, timbral intrigue and expert timing; I agree with Cadence founder Bob Rusch’s liner-note assertion that this is one of Rosen’s best moments on disc.

This Waukee concert captures something iconic about Trio X, something relating back to that first Vision performance I referenced above. Maybe it’s partly McPhee’s pocket trumpet work, which has a freedom and invention very similar to the 1998 recording. Probably, it’s just the sense of discovery the group always manages to harness, so that by the time they ease into the familiar set closer, “Goin’ Home,” a sense of real unity through diversity is palpable, with McPhee and Duval playing as if they were one instrument to Rosen’s cymbal rolls.

There’s much to enjoy throughout the rest of the set, particularly the trio’s take on Coltrane’s “Naima” and the old group standby, “My Funny Valentine,” which has come up in myriad guises over the years. More than anything, what comes across — again — is the group’s lack of dogmatism. McPhee, Duval and Rosen don’t play fire music or the jazz charts, but these virtuosos do slip in just enough of both to remain unpredictable, and thus always worth checking out.

By Marc Medwin

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