Insurgency indeed! Steve Swell, Joe McPhee, and Dick Griffin captivated the room at Kerrytown Concert House with their flourishes and improvisations and craziness they called music. The venue itself was really small and cozy, seating no more than 100 people, giving the audience a homey, comfortable, intimate vibe with the musicians.
With Swell and Griffin on the trombone and McPhee on the valve trombone, the trio started off on stage together warming up…or playing their first song. I couldn’t really tell as each individual did their own thing and the warmup actually sounded like the rest of their sets. There was no melody. There was no set rhythm. There were only notes. And those notes came together to make music. Their skills were amazing, and it was clear all three of them were super talented musicians. At one point in the first song, all three blared on their trombones, and I literally got chills as it vibrated throughout the room.
After the first song, McPhee and Swell left the stage and Griffin solo-ed, exploring many different techniques and playing the entire range of notes. For the final number, McPhee and Swell joined back with Griffin and they did everything musically possible, playing with mutes at different tempos and dynamics. McPhee and Griffin played multiple notes on their trombone at the same time, which fascinated me. Afterwards, I learned from my friend who plays trombone that this technique was called multiphonics, which sounded really impressive.
I for one was really confused throughout the set. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening during it, but everyone else seemed to understand the music. However, even though I was caught off guard by the music, I appreciated it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What made my experience even better was the fact that the audience, which consisted mostly of older 50+ year olds, was completely into it. Heads were bopping the entire time, even when there was no beat to bop to. But, that didn’t matter to them, and they took out of the hodgepodge of notes exactly what they wanted and needed.
The three trombonists played well together, and they obviously understood what they were doing, both individually and as a group. At the end, Swell, McPhee, and Griffin received a standing ovation, and it was clear that the music, cacophonic and chaotic in nature, spoke to the audience in a way a symphony or concert band never could.
This was not a typical trombone performance. This was not normal music. This was an insurgence. And it was amazing in its own way.