Take three musicians on the vanguard of free improvisation, two who have played together extensively and one who’s new to the equation, put them onstage and eventually their explorations will lead to…“My Funny Valentine”? “Blue Monk”? “Summertime”? Yes, yes and yes. It might sound odd, but those standards come to the surface in each of the three lengthy tracks on this live recording from 2004. What’s remarkable, though, is the journey these three musicians take that leads them to this common ground.
Joe McPhee (soprano sax, pocket trumpet) and Dominic Duval (bass) have played together before, but other than the latter’s guest appearance in the David S. Ware Quartet, neither had played with Matthew Shipp (piano). Yet early on, they gel in the 32-minute “Never Before,” with McPhee’s fleet sax runs complementing Shipp’s thundering low-end stabs and Duval’s rapid plucking. 20 minutes in, McPhee introduces “Valentine,” which gets deconstructed by his comrades. “Never Again” begins with sonic scrapings and trumpet smears before it conjures Monk twice: “Straight, No Chaser” comes early in the piece but never catches on; “Blue Monk” closes things up, complete with some sanctified playing from Shipp. While the chestnuts in the first two tracks act as passing fancies, “In Finland” begins with the Gershwin standard “Summertime” and takes off from there.
Ultimately, the touchstones are noticeable but they’re outweighed by the music that McPhee, Shipp and Duval create in the moment.