I may not be the best one to provide meaningful feedback to this as I’m an amateur player with no playing commitments, etc. But it seems to me that it’s somewhat normal to go through phases where playing fluctuates a bit better or worse and I think those fluctuations are both physical and mental. Some of them are even, in my experience, more mental than anything–more of our not meeting our preset expectation of what we should sound like. That can be detrimental. If you have toured and played in different venues with different sound acoustics and different environments, I’m sure you have experienced this as well.
My understanding/opinion is that “less is more”, generally speaking. The lips just need to interact with air like the vocal chords. The less we have to do to manipulate the muscles in our face to get our lips into the right place at the right time, the more relaxed and natural of a setting, the better.
When things are going great for me, they Feel AND Sound great.
Often times when things don’t feel or sound good, I stop and basically give up on the sound for a bit and focus on what feels good–what do I feel like my chops need? Rest? Some soft Clarke I slurred? Soft long tones? Some easy flexibilities?
I rest, take it easy and try to remember the things that I focused on to get to where I was before.
That usually works in finding my way back home.
I think it is possible to play with a refined sound and great response from scratch, assuming there is no lingering stiffness, soreness or other physical issues from overplaying.
If I recall correctly, Greg gave an example of a band director asking someone what’s wrong with one of the trumpet players–he has a great sound, amazing tone, etc. But he can’t seem to read / play the music. The answer was that the player had just been playing for a couple weeks and was just learning how to read music. He sounded like an advanced player from a tone / sound perspective, but wasn’t.
I try to let the sound happen and try not to get in the way. Easier said than done at times, but things usually go good when I achieve that / have that mindset.