We had a good time when John O'Gallagher (1964, Anaheim, CA) last visited The Spirit Room in February 2002. That concert was a quartet with Tony Malaby's tenor sax sharing the front line on a program of John's interesting originals. This time out, John suggested a trio playing what he termed "interesting re-evaluations of standards." As I already found John's sax lines and development interesting, the context—including the fact that he would be the lone horn voice—sounded promising. I felt Masa Kamaguchi (1966, Wakkanai, Japan), who had impressed me as part of Ahmed Abdullah's group NAM, would also benefit in the sink or swim trio setting. And, finally, Jay Rosen (1961, Philadelphia, PA) would be there to force the issue, if necessary, to the level of excellence for which we both aim.
The trio arrived earlier than expected on February 3, after a previous night's gig in Rochester, NY. By mid afternoon a sound check had easily been dispatched and we had the rare luxury of relax time before supper, and time during and after supper. But, as sometimes happens when you are not under pressure, time slips away, things get too relaxed, you get behind, and the edge is lost. By the time we started at 8p.m., I was concerned edge would not be present, and a nonexistent momentum would have to be built.
After reviewing with the trio the essentials of a CIMP session, they opened with a group improv, Invisibility, and, not fully paying attention, I began filling out the session log sheets, somethingI should have done before the formal start of a session. In my head I had figured this take would be perfunctory and more developmental to the whole than anything memorable. But about 3 minutes into it I was completely distracted by John's solo and then, after the whole 8 minutes, caught up in the pleasures of the take. Immediately following, and in line with the strategy he had suggested to me earlier, John counted off and the group went into Leakey's Bag, a group improv, inspired by a familiar theme and freely improvised on the spot. The group obviously has a comfort and rapport that enables it to get to the music's sweet spot with both ease and edge. Working off sketches, moods, and ideas, and with no written music, the trio did the first set (7 takes) with only a handful of spoken words between takes but with musical excellence and interest from all members; a silent communication. And except for the opening of a piece, there was very little eye contact.
After about a 5 minute break, the second set went much the same way. Again, 7 takes, only faltering a little at the end. At this point, we took about a 40 minute break, noshed, discussed politics, the quickly accumulating heavy snow, music and instruments. Rejuvenated, we returned to The Spirit Room around 10:40 p.m. and went for a third set. The group opened with Later, Bird, John's nod to the sax from Desmond and Konitz to Braxton and O'Gallagher. By this point I felt we already had enough material, but it had seemed so easy I didn't really trust it; better to let it run its course and assess it in the morning.
A curious occurrence happened during the first take of Bouncin' Billie. Three and a half minutes into the piece, and after some wonderful playing, what appeared to be a small lightning flash exploded in The Spirit Room, visible to Masa, Marc, and myself (Jay and John had their eyes closed). I speculated, in jest, that it was caused by Jay's furious brush work. I've also included take 2, which is twice the length of take 1, because it, too, is a wonderful effort and because it is interesting to compare the similarieties and differences in approaches, especially from the drum's point of view.
In the morning, I began the job of reassessing the previous night's material. It was evident that there was much more than a CD's worth of content. Jay's comment was, "Wow, I'm impressed." So it was decided we would do a couple more sets in the morning and if the standard of excellence was such that a second CD could be satisfied, we would issue a second volume.
They opened the set with a revisit to Don't Move, an improv inspired by the classic Bop anthem, "Move."John replaces the tension of the original's rhythmic drive and insistence with the tension of a worried ballad stretched taut. The juxtaposition of Masa and John's introspective lines with the rhythmic dynamics of Jay's percussion is stunning.
John's playing/approach is really extraordinary as he gives just a slight blush to the subject, leaving about as much out of a line as he puts in, letting the listener finish his suggestion or allowing the momentum of a line to fall from its apex to a natural and unhurried descent and landing. And the rhythm section seems to have the intuitiveness of a long-tenured combo and the ease that goes with that association. While John has known Jay since about 1991 and Masa since the late ‘90s, the group has only been working together for about 5 months. It is not hard to believe this is a real group. What is hard to believe is that they have been an active group for only a short time as they are so intuitive and inventively compatible with one another. For me, the 2 days were an indulgence of mind and spirit, challenging, inspiring, and most satisfying. It is my hope that you will take these memorable concerts, treat yourself to a dedicated listen, and indulge yourself in their worthy offerings.
Robert D. Rusch - Feb. 4, 2004