TRIO-X

In Black and White
Cadence Jazz Records JR 1144

MARK WHITECAGE TRIO The Paper Trail
Acoustics #ELE 413CD

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s when New York jazzers wanted the perfect rhythm section, they usually made sure it included virtuosic bassist Paul Chamber and inventive drummer Art Taylor, or at least one of them. The same sort of situation seems to exist in advanced improvisational circles today, with bassist Dominic Duval and percussionist Jay Rosen, singly and together contributing their talents to numberless CDs.

Additionally, like Chambers — linchpin of Miles Davis’ quintet/sextet — and Taylor — who frequently gigged with Thelonious Monk — Duval and Rosen are also charter members of several longstanding bands, two of which are featured here. The CDs show how the two can adapt to the needs of different front-line partners, which in these cases are multi-reedman Mark Whitecage in a studio situation; and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee on two live dates.

Duval and Rosen’s tongue in groove relationship is most noticeable on “Blood at the Root”, the more than 16½-minute climax of a Trio-X performance at Ann Arbor, Mich.’s Edgefest in 1999. A speedy Free Jazz tune that brings out screaming multiphonics, repeated renal smears and mewling split tones from McPhee’s tenor saxophone, these actions never faze the two rhythm players. Even as the saxophonist honks and smears in an almost Aylerian dementia, Duval’s flailing bass line and upfront string bending meld with Rosen’s press rolls, snare tattoo and ride cymbal exercises to hold the beat steady.

Speed and vibrations aren’t all the two can offer either. The three preceding numbers are all in yearning, balladic mode. On the nearly 14-minute “‘Round Midnight and Later,” McPhee elaborates a classic, smooth, swooping Coleman Hawkins/Ben Webster style, breathing out tiny phrases until he starts elaborating variations on the theme. Until then, Rosen has only interposed tiny cymbal shakes and muted snare and tom rumbles. Just before Duval begins a double-stopping variation on “All Blues” — and he’s never sounded more like Chambers than here — the saxman works his way up to full, screeching altissimo. As pure glossolalia replace sheets of sound, the other two are on his notes like guard dogs on an intruder. Bombs drop from Rosen’s bass drum and Duval strums as if he was guiding a 12-string guitar. Finally, with no return to the initial theme, the track ends with the bassist’s return to the Chambers-like pizzicato lines.

Duval’s melodic gifts are spotlighted on “Going Home”, famously recorded by Albert Ayler in 1964. Powerfully bowing on the melancholy spiritual’s theme, the bassman’s work is decorated by the percussionist merely touching what appear to be a bell tree and a glockenspiel. Earlier, the saxman’s wheezing thematic exposition becomes secondary once the melody migrates to the bass’s four strings.

Even more spectacular is the trio’s rendition of the nearly 18-minute “Sida’s Song”, recorded two years later at New York’s Vision Fest. Unsheathing his trumpet for the only time on the CD, McPhee’s fanfare of accented notes meets an andante sweep from Duval’s bow. Swapping plunger mute for saxophone, McPhee’s abrasive, Sonny Rollins-like vibrato is met with what appears to be targeted hand drumming from Rosen. As the saxman expels gut vibrations from deep inside his diaphragm, Rosen creates equine clip clops, then enough bass drum pedal action and duple metre snare action to suggest a Frankenstein monster meld of Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones. Downshifting to repeat the same simple six-note theme, McPhee almost literally cries through his mouthpiece, clears out for a Duval pizzicato excursion, then emulates that pattern as a coda.

A different woodwind partner doesn’t lessen the accomplishment of the rhythm duo as you’ll hear on Whitecage’s CD recorded in 1995 and most easily available by e-mail at rozmark@bellatlantic.net. Like McPhee, a frequent visitor to Europe, the Jersey City-based saxophonist and clarinetist is a couple of years older than the other reedist and more pre-Free Jazz statements come out in his playing.

You can hear this most clearly on “The Connecticut Solution”, an almost nine-minute clarinet feature. Sticking mostly to the coloratura register, Whitecage manages to be experimental and traditional simultaneously. Triple-tonguing and bending his output elastically, he moves from proto-bop Tony Scott territory, through more formal Swing era pitches, works for a time in Middle Eastern snake charming mode adds a sad, Klezmer-like tinge and double-times at the end. Duval backs him with understated Jimmy Garrison-like thumps, while Rosen mostly restricts himself to bell ringing.

There’s no such restrain on “Rebate” and the other foot tappers on the CD, Here and elsewhere the percussionist displays his ratcheting cymbals, side of drums rim shots, bass pedal and what’s apparently a bicycle horn (!) and a disco whistle (!!) to direct the tunes. Whitecage’s pinched Ornette-style line on the alto is perfect for these pieces, all of which were composed by him anyway.

At the same time, the saxman’s unique sense of melody — or is it humor — asserts itself in his choice of quotes on other compositions. “CHEESE” — all caps for some unexplained reason — is a mid-range Coltrane style romp with some exaggerated flurries of notes interrupted by snatches of “As Time Goes By” and “Pretty Baby”, for example.

Then there’s “Like A Spring Day”, which has a theme reminiscent of both R&B sax honkers and “A Love Supreme”. Midway through the altoist comes up with a nearly measureless section of freebop cadenzas that suggest how Eric Dolphy — one of Whitecage’s admitted influences — would have sounded had he lived a couple more decades. But that ghostly influence shares reed space with funky tongue slaps straight out of the Hank Crawford/“Fathead” Newman soul school. Here the rhythm section demonstrates its still-maturing empathy by mostly staying out of the way. Duval lets out a few half-hearted plucks and Rosen limits himself to accented percussion.

Interested in some examples of the art of one of the 21st century’s best rhythm teams? How about some tight trio work featuring two experimental, but very grounded sax men? Here are two CDs that deliver all of that and more.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Black: 1. God Bless the Child 2. ‘Round Midnight and Later 3. Going Home 4. Blood at the Root 5. Sida’s Song 6. Wait Until Evening

Personnel: Black: Joe McPhee (trumpet, tenor saxophones); Dominic Duval (bass); Jay Rosen (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Paper: 1. Something About J.C. 2. The Connecticut Solution 3. Rebate 4. High Tech #8 5. Split Personality 6. Like A Spring Day 7. CHEESE

Personnel: Paper: Mark Whitecage (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet); Dominic Duval (bass); Jay Rosen (drums and percussion)