Joe McPhee, Mikolaj Trzaska, Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen: Magic

The story goes that Mikolaj Trzaska, a longtime fan of McPhee, sought out Trio X at a performance in Krakow in 2006 to ask if he could play with the group. With that meeting, a plan evolved for a 2007 tour with the support of Not Two Records owner, Marek Winiarski. Trzaska and Trio X together became the group Magic. The two-disc set, Magic, documents the 2007 tour in Poland.

Given the improvisational expertise of McPhee on alto sax, clarinet and pocket trumpet, of Trzaska on alto sax and bass clarinet, Duval on bass, and Jay Rosen on drums, this recording imparts more than anyone could expect. The musicians inspire and interact with one another in exceptionally intricate and subtle ways. The smallest details of the playing fill volumes of space with intelligent musical conversation, no matter whether one, two, three or all four are involved in the improvisation. The instrumental layering is so clear and unique that listening is an extraordinarily fulfilling challenge. There is bubbling and boiling, but absolutely no mayhem.

Duval and Rosen transcend their rhythm-section-ness. Their responsiveness to the horns is stunning. Duval’s infusion of his beautifully shaped arco and pizzicato technique at befitting junctures in the music is particularly noteworthy. His solo, “Contra-ception,” displays how his relaxed fingers feather the bass strings, catch one or two in a twang to spring further into new, softly expressive patterns. Rosen’s essential timing ensures that the actions of any other instruments are not so much ornamented as logically enhanced. Rosen’s drumming is never syrupy; it is dry, clean and rhythmically acute, even when he opens up on cymbals. His solo, “I Remember Max,” ends the first disc.

McPhee and Trzaska are a musical marriage made in heaven. Their exchanges extend and complement what each is doing. Their instruments can assume one direction, even though, for example, McPhee might be playing a pocket trumpet and Trzaska, the alto, or McPhee is barely singing through the reed of his sax while Trzaska is restraining his arpeggios. In the opening “The Magician,” their solo lines overlap; their artfulness, distinguishable. In the closing “Transaction,” their phrasing is so interlocked and focused that they sing together as in a choir–in unison or contrapuntally; or one blows high and the other low, their contrasting tonalities, a means to suffuse their sound with unaffected sincerity.