Devin Gray – Dirigo Rataplan II – [TrackList follows] – Rataplan RR001, 53:48 [9/21/18] ****:
Drummer/composer Devin Gray isn’t interested in pursuing a jazz formula. His originals flit through avant-garde jazz, contemporary or modern jazz, experimental music and sonic impressionism. Which does not mean Gray’s compositions and performances are difficult to follow or hear. He’ll offer standard jazz gambits but filter them through his own creativity, so there’s a sense of newness and individualism. Gray is a journeyman drummer who has performed and/or recorded with David Liebman, Tony Malaby, Nate Wooley, Stephan Crump, Sam Rivers and many others. He currently fronts two quartets: RelativE ResonancE and Dirigo Rataplan. Dirigo Rataplan’s 53-minute sophomore album, aptly titled Dirigo Rataplan II, comes after Gray’s debut as a leader, the 2012 Dirigo Rataplan (Skirl Records). In 2016 Gray reconvened Dirigo Rataplan and issued the quartet’s second record in late 2018 via his own Rataplan imprint. Three talented jazz artists support Gray. Acoustic bassist Michael Formanek’s experience includes backing Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Liebman, Fred Hersch and others and he began releasing his own albums in 1990. Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin has headed his own groups and his musical associations include Joey Baron, Marc Ribot, Liebman, and more. Trumpeter Dave Ballou has recorded for labels such as Clean Feed and Steeplechase; credits include Steely Dan, Woody Herman, Andrew Hill, Oliver Lake, Liebman and a long list of other musicians.
The foursome begin in generally familiar waters with the 3:28 “Congruently,” where the foursome takes an unassuming declaration and then adds counterpoint. The two horns then layer, charge and compete as bass and drums swing hard and loose. It is amazing to hear the way trumpet and sax commingle, and blend. There is a similar strategy to the 4:24 “Rollin’ thru Town,” which has a direct post-bop aspect except for the knotty trumpet and sax teamwork between Ballou and Eskelin which provides an intricate and complex dialogue. One of the most intriguing tracks in the CD’s first half is the 6:33 “Texticate” an explorative tune with an unrestricting format and an open-ended quality. “Texticate” initiates with a penetrating drums/tenor sax duet and gradually develops with judicious inclusion from the bass and trumpet, until broadening into an energized, through-composed section.
Another piece which where the ensemble stretches out and finds many textures is the 6:38 “Quantum Cryptology.” Eskelin starts out with subtle, nuanced higher-register sax lines. While Eskelin can blow like almost no one else, he showcases a sensitive side during “Quantum Cryptology.” That said, Ballou is the star of this impressionistic selection, with extended improvising which has an effecting sensibility and reactive nature. The lengthiest tune is the sole tribute, “The Feeling of Healing (for Steve Grover),” dedicated to the late jazz instructor and award-winning composer. Formanek shifts to arco bass, which supplies both a sublime essence and an avant-garde influence. During “The Feeling of Healing” there is an atmosphere close to a requiem as well as a quiet celebration, where there is both shadowiness and a semblance of light; there is also a fine relationship between improvisational instances and discernible composed areas. “The Feeling of Healing” is a good example where Gray and his group show how they can ease back and forth between solo stimulation and following what Gray has penned. The record concludes with the 5:28 “Intrepid Travelers,” which has a flowing rhythmic tempo and more of the sometimes tricky and sometimes fluid sax/trumpet conversation; and the short, coda-like “Micro Dosage,” which has the hallmarks of being a freely-played performance, but probably is not, and has a certain density which demonstrates the group’s ability to act as one across a demanding arrangement. Devin Gray’s Dirigo Rataplan II fell under the radar of most listeners when it came out late last year, but it’s one of those thoroughly modern constructions which should be heard by more folks.
Devin Gray – drums, co-producer; Michael Formanek – acoustic bass; Ellery Eskelin – tenor saxophone; Dave Ballou – trumpet
Rollin’ thru Town
Trends of Trending
What We Learn from Cities
The Feeling of Healing (for Steve Grover)