Saturday, February 02, 2019

CD Review: Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan II

Devin Gray
Dirigo Rataplan II

Drummer Devin Gray gets around, working the kit for a great number of projects in the U.S. and Europe. That partially explains why it's been seven years since his first album with his Dirigo Rataplan quartet. The group includes Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Dave Ballou (trumpet) and Michael Formanek (bass) along with Gray.

The album's production has some sonic qualities akin to an ECM release. There is a lot of space between the musicians. In fact Eskelin and Ballou are panned into separate channels and though their sound is crisp, their attack feels subtle. The wood of Formanek's bass resonates, especially when he plucks heavily on it. But Gray sits in the background to all of this. It's not that he's lost in the mix but his energetic ideas could have been boosted a little because the group is clearly involved in some interactive conversations.

Free improvisation factors into a lot of the album's 10 tracks, in a variety of ways. "Congruently" follows more of a theme-solos-theme format while others begin with no structure and eventually morph into a groove. "Trends of Trending" takes this direction, following some trumpet and tenor discussions over some rolls and crashes from the leader. In "Texicate" the real action seems to be coming from the bass and drums, but that doesn't stop Eskelin and Ballou from scattering a series of ideas out front. This one also concludes with a theme, in this case a stop-start idea where the whole quartet moves as one.

The time apart clearly did nothing to loosen the connection between the Dirigo Rataplan group. Eskelin unleashes a great solo in "The Wire" while the rhythm section goes wild behind him. When Ballou takes his turn, he picks up on that energy, with big trills and long tones as Gray and Formanek shift into a double-stop vamp. When Formanek scrapes the strings with a bow in "The Feeling of Heeling" it adds a kick to the music that doesn't quite appear in other tracks. While the music sounds tight, much of it resides in the same dynamic level. In person, this music surely catches fire. (Gray came off like a powerhouse when he came to town with Adam Hopkins' Crickets sextet a few months ago.) Hopefully these four can find the time to convene more often in the future.

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