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Trio X: Moods: Playing with the Elements

Derek Taylor By

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Recorded the day following Trio X's last release, The Sugar Hill Suite (CIMP, 2005), this new disc is both companion session and departure. That earlier date spent substantial space ruminating on the history and cultural legacy of the named Harlem neighborhood, and the music ended up less overtly incendiary as a result. This one aligns more with the band ethos established by the bulk of its catalog, emphasizing potent collective improvisation and a fair share of free jazz fireworks. Deviating from past efforts, McPhee chooses to devote a substantial portion of the program to showcasing his brass instruments.

Running time is generous, with eleven cuts occupying nearly 75 minutes. The three players squander no time in rallying the big guns. A pair of tenor-forwarded pieces fires the program off. "Sienna Sun rises on back of one of McPhee's signature old-time spiritual motifs, Duval and Rosen plugging the gaps with soulful, low-key accompaniment. It's the sort of rural Southern hymn perfectly suited to the saxophonist's burnished horn.

"Wegatchie Run taps a different spigot, loosing a deluge of scalding multiphonics and cascading rhythmic aggression on par with the trio's most frenzied past work. McPhee's tenor quickly turns gnarled and recalcitrant, his breath plumbing the lower register with blustery honks. Built loosely on a staccato Morse Code-like progression of bent notes, "Burning Wood features both flugelhorn and tenor in another calefactory face-off with frothing bass and drums.

Regrouping, the trio tackles a string of shorter pieces starting with Duval's solo "Dedicated to You, Joe. Rife with flamenco strums and skidding stops the improvisation segues directly into a mellow, brushes-driven rendering of "Stella by Starlight. McPhee's plush and tender flugelhorn espouses memories of prime Miles. His measured work on "Legacy references another lineage, tapered lines targeting the slurred tonal territories pioneered by Bill Dixon. "In Evidence finds him placing the Spirit Room pocket trumpet to pursed lips and poking pointed holes in the choppy contrapuntal support of his partners.

For "Lonely Woman, oddly not attributed to Ornette on the tray card, McPhee intersects Brötzmann's seminal solo version, vibrato spilling through horn's bell in a stirring testimony of denuded pathos. "Short Eyes celebrates the rhythmic congruity of the three, McPhee's clicking keypads locking with Rosen's sticks on rims to shape a jaunty bouncing beat as Duval thrums beneath. A turn to tenor proper and the voicing of a deep ruddy line does nothing to diminish the tune's propulsive punch. Two more tenor-stoked tracks take the set out on a sustained high note: "Voices, a vintage McPhee tune with spiritual echoes of the set opener, and "A Valentine in the Fog of War, an Ayleresque anthem that stamps the mind with an indelible slow burn.

The Kara Rusch painting that serves as album cover depicts a faceless figure pulling open shirt to reveal a Superman-style "X emblazoned on chest. McPhee, Duval, and Rosen harbor analogous super powers and a shared heroic sense when it comes to seat-of-the pants improvisation. It's all here, ripe and waiting for the hearing.

Track Listing: Sienna Sun; Wegatchie Run; Burning Wood; Dedicated to You, Joe; Stella By Starlight; In Evidence; Lonely Woman; Short Eyes; Legacy (Celebrating Bill Dixon

Personnel: Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet; Dominic Duval: bass; Jay Rosen: drums. (Recorded October 20 & 21, 2004.)

Title: Moods: Playing with the Elements | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: CIMP Records

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