|This meeting between Joe McPhee, Matthew Shipp, and Dominic Duval, recorded live at the 2004 Raahen Rantajatsit festival Finland, was the first time the three had played together. In fact, though McPhee and Duval have a longstanding partnership, they had each only played with Shipp individually on a few other occasions. The liner notes don’t tell anything about the synthesis of the trio but the tune titles, “Never Before”, “Never Again”, and “In Finland”, hint at the fact that this might have been a festival organizer’s idea. Though there is a long tradition of all-star festival concerts, these sort of one-off collaborations offer up misses far more often than they serve to inspire the players to new heights. This set has its share of both.
The set starts out with Shipp’s tumbling clusters slowly building against Duval’s bass. But the improvisation is full of fades and false starts as tensions and energy start to build but never quite catch. The pianist drives his lines with stabbing power, but he never quite engages with Duval’s oblique phrasing. When McPhee enters on soprano, his sinuous free lyricism steers the music in a new direction and things slowly start to gel. The three spend the next 20-odd minutes wafting back and forth between melodicism and reticent freedom. They finally settle in on an (oddly uncredited) reading of “My Funny Valentine”, which toys with the melody but only catches fire at the end of the half-hour improvisation.
The second piece digs in from the start, steered by McPhee’s muted pocket trumpet smears and Duval’s arco harmonics with Shipp’s spare piano notes drifting as an undercurrent. Here, the three-way probing improvisation finally breaks open with an (again uncredited) extrapolation of "Blue Monk", this time introduced by Duval. The theme bubbles up from the bass and is handed off to Shipp and McPhee, who fracture Monk’s angles. But, though the three build to a fiery crescendo, the listener is left longing for the directness that Lacy brought to Monk’s music rather than these circuitous musings.
The final piece starts out with Shipp’s muscular stabs joining with McPhee’s trumpet to parse out the changes of “Summertime”. (Odd that here again, the notes and CD cover skip mention of the standard.) McPhee slips over to soprano and he and Shipp take off on the welling theme. Here, they start to get some traction as they build off of an insistent riff, ratcheting up the tension while leaving plenty of open spaces in their playing. Maybe more time together would lead to results like this last piece. As it is, the potential is never fully realized.