Sunday, December 26, 2010

CD review: Dynamaxion Quartet - Sympathetic Vibrations

(I started writing this review early last week, but fell asleep at the laptop. The next day, I had a fever of 100, then Christmas came. Hope everyone reading this had a good holiday. I'm much better know. I think.)
The Dynamaxion Quartet
Sympathetic Vibrations

Some musician - Frank Zappa or Elvis Costello, depending on who you ask - once said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. " It's a clever statement, but like "Jazz is dead," it really has no value other than to rile people up unnecessarily.

The Dynamaxion Quartet has come together in an effort not to dance about architecture but to actually play it, in a matter of speaking. The group takes its big inspiration from architect/inventor/"practical philosopher" R. Buckminster Fuller. Their name in fact comes from a word Fuller invented after discovering that he used the words "dynamic," "maximum" and "tension" frequently. Drummer Gabriel Gloege, the composer and guiding force in the quartet, has attempted to harness Fuller's confluence of ideas by having the band create a sound that goes beyond the limits of a standard chordless quartet. The pieces don't strictly follow a head-solos-head structure. Tenor saxophonist Mark Small and trumpeter Michael Shobe wind up playing over each other in several of the tracks. In "At One," they start out trading eights, then fours, then ones until they're right on top of one another. This never comes across as busy or overly analytical, and although it doesn't sound unprecedented by other pianoless quartets, the music is always moving and never spare.

Rhythmic displacement keeps "Night Market" shifting. Small begins played a seven-note riff in 5/4, which he regularly tosses to Shobe when the tenor takes a solo. Underneath Gloege plays time signatures that keep changing where the downbeat falls in the riff. Repetitive pieces like this can grate after a few minutes, but this one leaves the listener so interested in where things will land that there's no time for it to wear out its welcome.

In his quest to give all his bandmates equal footing, Gloege frequently gives bassist Dan Fabricatore an equal voice in the melody. "Spring Equinox" begins with his bass leading the way before the horns come in. Later, as he does in a few other tracks, Fabricatore plucks his solos with a lot of authority in his tone. "Summer's End" also has an interesting beginning and end, with a slow hymn-like melody sandwiching Gloege's off-kilter groove that feels like 8/8.

For further thematic influence with Sympathetic Vibrations, Gloege drew on the work of photographer Asca S. R. Auli. He spent in year in Hong Kong, Paris and Manhattan, taking pictures of all sorts of scenes, which illustrated each city while still leaving some details unclear, a quality that appealed to the drummer. The nine tracks on the album are broken up into three sections, each named for the city.

While aesthetic concept seems to factor heavily into this album, it isn't mandatory to know the backstory of the work, nor does it really elevate it any further. The Dynamaxion Quartet is creating their own niche for a two-horns-and-rhythm quartet, one that doesn't need to probe into the Ornette approach, but who knows how the tear it up with a fresh take on bop (closer "Fulton Fish Market," which cleverly sandwiches a line from "Criss Cross" into its theme) when they feel like it.

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