I’ve seen Sean McCaul play on the Union Square L-train platform three times now, and each time I haven’t had the $10 in cash to buy his (presumably) self-produced CD. I need to put a ten-dollar bill in each of my bags and backpacks and be prepared, Hardy Boys style, to meet risk with success.
I want McCaul’s album because he’s brilliant. I remember coming down the stairs to the platform a couple years ago and being surrounded by soothing noise, rising and descending tones of an ethereal, emotion-made-sonic quality. McCaul plays the vibraphone, a rack of metal bars of specific length that, when struck, emit a note; depending on how you strike the bar and the type of mallet used, it can sound either like a rolling wall of noise, liquid and intermingling, or a staccato, if mellow, sort of polyphonic drum. I’ve only ever heard vibes played on a Miles Davis album before McCaul.
He is a slight, calm presence on the stewing chaos of the platform. I remember a black t-shirt with black jeans and work boots, eyes on his vibes unless someone drops a bill into his case and then he’ll nod his thanks. His eyes bespoke concentration and an interior peace I can only imitate. I assume he plays his own compositions. His music moves quickly but unhurriedly to cover a range of moods, and he uses space to fine dramatic effect. There is also a narrative quality to his music. I get the sense, more immediate and vivid than another instrument, that he’s telling me a story that takes place over a period of years.
Poking around the internets, I found a lone video of McCaul at work. Unfortunately, it cuts off before his stream-of-consciousness mellowification can build to full effect, alas. I hope to see him again soon, and this time have $10 in my wallet.