Rolling in the Deep

While some musicians settle for “going deep” by engaging in a meandering jam, penning obtuse lyrics or even issuing gimmicky album cover art, local ensemble De Profundis tries to tune into a more immeasurable frequency. The trio, featuring Joe Yorio on saxophones, Bob Moore on keyboards and Tony Steve on percussion, puts forth what Moore calls an “attempt to shed some new light on spiritual music ‘of depth.’ ” Taking their moniker from Psalm 130: 1-2: De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine. (translated as “Out of the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord”), the band tries to distill Gregorian chant, African-American spirituals and Early American shape note hymns to their essence. “We’re stripping them of their texts,” Moore explains, “and focusing on the sonic power of the melodies.” On Wednesday, June 20, the band makes their live debut at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Jacksonville with a performance of “Solstice,” celebrating the longest day of the year. (A clip of the band performing excerpts of “Solstice” can be heard at bit.ly/LzDF4M)

Folio Weekly readers should be familiar with Moore and Steve for their work both separately and as a duo. Composer-multi-instrumentalist Moore was recently featured for his commissioned piece, “Aurora,” (“A Sound Life,” May 15); Jacksonville University contemporary music and percussion professor Steve has been featured for presenting of works by John Cage (“Cage Match,” Nov. 2, ’10). Together, Moore and Steve are best known for performing live soundtracks to silent cinema classics (“Silent Treatment,” Sept. 20, ’11). Locally, the men are crucial to bridging musical barriers and both are as comfortable playing avant-garde jazz as medieval madrigals. “I love cutting-edge music and art,” Steve explains, “but sometimes we have to try and find peace and joy in other folds of the musical fabric.”

Key to De Profundis’ ability to thread together the sacred and profane with the traditional and visionary are a laser-like focus, devotion to craft and adventurous delivery of horn man Joe Yorio. While the 39-year-old Yorio might be a lesser-known figure in the local media, his skills, experience, approach and influence on other musicians are as formidable as any of his peers, however quietly issued.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Yorio began playing saxophone at the age of eight, the flute at 13 and the clarinet the following year. By the time he entered Eastman School of Music in his late teens, Yorio had added bassoon and oboe to an already-impressive arsenal of sound, studying several instruments with equal fervor. In 1993, a few years after encountering alto saxophonist Bunky Green, Yorio decided to seek his musical fortunes down South. “Most people thought I was crazy to leave Eastman,” Yorio tells Folio Weekly, “but after meeting Bunky in 1988, I knew I had to study with him.” Green, who has navigated the bandstand with musicians as disparate as Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones and Andrew Hill, has been a longtime faculty member at University of North Florida and is currently the director of jazz studies.

Once Yorio plugged into the Northeast Florida music scene, he surrendered to his playing at an even deeper level. In short time, Yorio worked with area artists ranging from salsa band Impacto Latino to the progressive hip hop of acts like Method (later known as Shakti Cypher) and Batsauce, as well as his own Avant World Ensemble. Locals and touring players alike took notice of his skills, and Yorio was invited to perform in free jazz legend Sam Rivers’ incendiary Rivbea Orchestra. While Yorio speaks fondly of his wood-shedding days, it was during the period he played with the various band permutations of guitarist-sonic maverick Matt Butler when he soared. “Creatively speaking, my time playing with Matt was by far the most profound. It’s really where I formed a sense of musical identity.” Currently living in Austin, Texas, Butler (who playfully calls Yorio “the multi-colored steam whistle”) is equally laudatory of his former longtime sideman. “Joe is one of the most complete and unique musicians I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” Butler tells Folio Weekly, “and plays every woodwind I’ve ever heard of, and many that I didn’t even know existed.” Over the years, Yorio has also created an impressive résumé backing visiting musical heavyweights including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis and Frankie Valli.

Yorio has been playing in the same circles as Moore and Steve for years, both musically and academically, and has taught a variety of sax and woodwind classes at JU. Their decision to translate spiritual music into present-day compositions seemed obvious to Yorio. “It was quite clear from the start that we were on the same page.”

Yorio acknowledges that the body of source material they’re working with was originally written to attain certain states of consciousness and to “connect with one another” as well as to connect with a higher power or God. Admittedly, some music lovers who are skeptical, indifferent or even opposed to concepts of religion, theism and wisdom traditions might be hesitant to check out this innovative combo’s music. Yorio believes that De Profundis present sounds that can be enjoyed by all, simply due to the players’ motivations. “I strongly believe in the power of intention and I believe in the power of sound/vibration,” says Yorio, who’s also a longtime adherent to the practices of yoga and meditation, admitting to spending a time he describes as “monastic” in his attempts at mastering myriad instruments. Yorio believes that, ultimately, individuals who devote themselves to their craft, regardless of their beliefs, are attempting to connect with the infinite, what some would call the divine. “Those moments of being completely in the zone offer glimpses into that pursuit,” he says, “and being the best that we can be.”

Joe Yorio gives his strongest testimony recalling an occasion when he backed one musician who has spirit to spare, Aretha Franklin. “The first time I played with her, I was just brought to tears,” he recalls of his time spent in the presence of the Queen of Soul. “I could barely make it through the first song of the rehearsal.”

Dan Brow

dbrown@folioweekly.c

De Profundis performs “Solstice” on Wednesday, June 20 at 7 p.m. at Taliaferro Hall, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, 256 E. Church St., Jacksonville. Bring non-perishable food donations in support of St. Mary’s food pantry. 356-5507.

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