Monday, July 20, 2020

CD Review: Whit Dickey Trio - Expanding Light/ Whit Dickey - Morph

Whit Dickey Trio
Expanding Light
(Tao Forms)

Whit Dickey

Whit Dickey is in the midst of a creative spurt, both as a musician and musical booster. His Tao Forms imprint released The Piano Equation, an album by his associate Matthew Shipp, earlier this year. Now he presents his own trio session, Expanding Light, right as ESP is releasing Morph, a double-disc set that features him in two recitals with Shipp, one a duo and the other a trio that adds trumpeter Nate Wooley. All of this comes less than 12 months after AUM Fidelity released another double-disc Dickey set, Peace Planet/ Box of Light, with two iterations of his Tao Quartets. Known for years as a support player with numerous other groups, Dickey proves that he is more than able to lead projects, or as the case may be, act as the catalyst to get some deep conversations started.

Expanding Light features the drummer together with alto saxophonist Rob Brown and bassist Brandon Lopez. Writing credits are given to Dickey "in collaboration with the Trio," which could mean that these were complete improvisations. Yet ideas spring forth throughout the six tracks which feel like sketches might have been utilized at least to a small degree during "The Outer Edge" and later when Dickey and Lopez go into a 6/8 vamp with a big bass sound on "Mӧbius."

When Brown rides a fast and furious free wave created the rhythm section, he sounds similar to Ornette Coleman, although Ornette never played with quite the searing quality that Brown uses here. There are moments where freedom slowly takes on a more noticeable shape. Dickey bashes an open hi-hat enthusiastically in "Expanding Light," which feels at first like color commentary, but eventually shapes itself into a 5/4 beat. Expanding Light comes off as a rollicking set from start to finish and one of the best examples of free interaction so far this year.

"Blue Threads," which opens the Dickey/Shipp duo set of Morph (which, as a whole is sub-titled Reckoning) proves to be an appropriate title, as the pianist's ideas sound like strands of blues, strung together in a unique manner. After Expanding Light's dynamics, these duets feel much more subdued and introspective. By now these two have a rather telepathic rapport, but a deeper listen is needed to fully grasp it.

The addition of Wooley on the second disc, subtitled Pacific Noir, adds more color to the scene, bringing out all kinds of surprises from each player. Wooley is one of the more intense free trumpeters around, capable of producing some of the most unsettling pitches with his horn. He does just that in "Noir 2," making some ghastly sounds, somewhere between a struggle for air and bottom register noise. It sounds all the more intriguing because Shipp, in this track, plays so sparingly that it's hard to tell if he's playing percussively on the frame of his instrument or if Dickey is playing on the rims of his kit. Throughout the set, Wooley revels in holding a note and distorting it into a growl, sometimes back into a clean pitch, all without taking a breath. He combines this with a gentle side in "Noir 3," which could almost be considered a ballad, though Shipp's equally lyrical chords remain a bit jumpy, to make sure things don't get too sweet.

Dickey is not the type who feels the need to exert himself to make sure listeners remember whose name appears first on the album. He's fully capable of cutting loose on his kit, and it's quite enjoyable listening to all of these albums and focusing on his performances, but he's less concerned with the spotlight than figuring out what can elevate the music.

Note: Typically I'd list a url for the record labels, but considering the way music is being purchased these days - and since Bandcamp seems to be the place for impulse buying, I opted to listed pages on Bandcamp where each of these can be heard and purchased.

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