A Darker Shade Of Blue
Joe McPhee / Mark Whitecage / Paul Smoker / DavidPrentice / Dominic Duval / Peter Kowald / Jay Rosen
CIMPhonia 1998 Part 1 – 2
Recorded May 26 & 27, 1998. – CIMP 1999
Catalog Number: CIMP 173
Catalog Number: CIMP 178
CIMP is dedicated to documenting a broad range ofcreative improvised music.
This get-together, which began at the end of the Memorial Day weekend, hadits genesis around January 1998. The original plan was a relatively simpleconcept: a trio, made up of 2 of the finest improvising bassists in the world(Peter Kowald & Dominic Duval) joining one of this music’s most continuallyinventive improvising modern instrumentalists, Mark Whitecage. Mark and Dominichave been closely working together since the winter of ‘94-’95. Peter firstbecame acquainted with Dominic in the mid-90s when the two got together (CIMPs106, 119, 141, 149, 155, 162, 171) during a German music meeting. Up until now,my relationship with Peter was, aside from an occasional meeting, through ourmutual contact with the German label FMP where Peter has been a part of anumber of remarkable pioneering sessions, including duo sessions with fellowbassists Barre Phillips (1979) and Barry Guy (1982) and a brilliant series ofduets with a wide range of artists recorded in the mid and late-80s.
In 1998, Dominic and Jay Rosen began doing some gigs with Joe McPhee.Dominic, quite appreciative of Joe’s abilities and overall attitude, suggestedwe include Joe on the session, thus expanding to a quartet. After that wasarranged, Jay got wind of what was going on and suggested, not unreasonably,that he join as part of a quintet. And there it sat. Over the next few months Igrew confident that the creative level, assurity of ego, and creative masteryof this group would yield yet another facet of their talents and that such agathering would be worthy of all our time and resources and, in turn, thelistener’s time.
Perhaps I got so used to the idea of this open grouping that a week beforethis gathering I began to feel uncomfortable with my comfort and think how wemight add more facets to the mix. So I called David Prentice, who sounds likeno other improvising violinist and whose previous work in the company of Joeand later with Dominic we had documented on earlier CIMP releases (#s 115, 120,132, 148). And I thought about Paul Smoker – Old Leather Lungs – a man who, inprevious visits to The Spirit Room (CIMPs 105, 129), would often prop himselfagainst a wall, seemingly to keep from blowing himself into it. Paul is one ofthe most dynamic trumpeters and a virtuoso who has a great understanding ofform and a brilliance in free form. Except for playing with Mark Whitecage in agig just 3 days before this gathering, Paul had no previous professionalconnection with the other participants. However, I felt his wit and wisdomwould mix well and also be a good juxtaposition to Joe’s pocket trumpet, theirsound being as different as the size of their respective trumpets.
Joe, Dominic, and Jay arrived early on the 25th, driving through the nightdirectly to The Spirit Room after an evening concert in New York City. Onarrival they let themselves in and went to sleep. Later, after some brunch,they set up, tuned up and began formally playing around 1:30 in the afternoon.Joe was particularly intrigued by Dominic’s Hutchins Bass, a rather nifty instrumentmade by Coleen Hutchinson, which falls somewhere between a bass and a cello andpossesses a powerful resonance. As expected, Joe found a natural catalyst inits properties for this more lyrical side. Together, they worked out a 4 partpiece which became “The Watermelon Suite” and a number of other explorations,some of which will be documented on CIMP 183.
Peter and Mark arrived around 3:30 p.m., sat down and enjoyed listeningwhile Dominic, Joe and Jay finished up their musical explorations.
After rest and food, the next session began around 8:30 p.m. after someprodding from Peter to “Let’s get playing.” The group gathered in a circle,Dominic suggested a strategy and then he and Peter set about establishing theform of the work that became the basis of “Looking For Space.”
In many ways this is a bass dominated gathering. Individually both bassistshave very big sounds and prominent personalities. They also have very differentapproaches. And it is on “Looking For Space” where Dominic and Peter have theirfirst formal encounter. Peter and Dominic set the opening tone as the groupgathered in a circle to begin playing. It fascinates me to hear how thebassists feel themselves out in the opening. This was also Joe’s and Mark’sfirst encounter with each other and it’s very different from the bassists.Though I’m sure Mark and Joe would deny it as a conscious decision, they areboth aggressively bold in their statements. I find it interesting to comparethis initial encounter and Mark’s initial encounter with fellow alto saxmanMarshall Allen (CIMP 170, 180). “Finding Strength” immediately followed“Looking For Strength” in the original program. It was Mark who, with verylittle delay, launched into this piece, again exhibiting a boldness not typicalof his manner. There is a challenge in his delivery which, after his solo,audibly and visually brought about a momentary deliberation in the group,leaving it to Dominic to do a little pizzicato against Peter’s vamp before Joepicked up the development for further engagement.
Because these 2 intense and dense interplays led off the evening’s work,Peter suggested we change directions and, in effect, open things up. The resultis “Making Space.” Originally I was pretty skeptical of the results butfamiliarity has really brought a joy. I am repeatedly amused by the skewedabsurdity which runs counter to its pointillistic industrial impressionistictheme. On this piece Dominic is playing thumb piano and Osie drums and Joe andMark are playing their sax pads in a percussive pattern.
It was from this point on that the evening’s session opened up into aworkshop for ideas and strategies with ideas passing quite informally aroundthe room for development.
Paul Smoker and David Prentice both arrived early Tuesday morning forbreakfast. After placement and logistics were worked out, the group gathered ina tight circle and did a take as much to hear their sonic placement as to do amusic handshake. And it is on the next piece, “Estrus,” that I’ve chosen toopen the proceedings in part because it opens very much like an orchestratuning up. However, any perceived tentativeness is swept away after 3 minuteswith Joe’s clarion tenor ascent. Not the first time such a strategy has beenemployed but still remarkably evocative here to propel this potent encounterwhich had Joe doubling on tenor and trumpet.
“Good Clean Fun” (originally the last work of the preceding night), is oneof the bass duos and takes its name from Peter’s exclamation at its conclusion.Fun indeed but also hard work as you can hear from Dominic’s air intake justbefore Peter’s comments.
The only written material in these concerts came from Paul. His “Wow Wow II”was a group improvisation set against a notated part for Paul’s trumpet. On“Fractals. 5” the opposite is true. For this, Paul brought out a structurechart for the group to follow. With Paul conducting with one hand and playingwith the other, the group produced what is one of this document’s most powerfulstatements which deceptively develops quite a wallop through restraint andtension. Incidentally, that chime-like sound from Jay evident near the end of“Fractals. 5” is a rather heavy iron propeller Jay carries with his drums and,as with all his unorthodox percussion accessories (horns, whistles, organpipes, etc.), it can sit unused for hours just waiting for the right placement.Jay’s use of sound is so right that you rarely notice it (this being one of thefew exceptions). Jay has remarkable ears and those who have the opportunity andobserve him are inevitably impressed by the appropriateness, intuitiveness, andmusicality of his work.
We finished up our first CIMPhonia in the late afternoon of May 27 and itended not unlike it began, with a feature for the basses (“Endorpher”). Parttraditional Jazz, part musique actuelle, for me the parts here are allrewarding. Thoughts made real enough to change my world and rather hard toabsorb through one sitting.
Robert D. Rusch – 5/26/98
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