Drummer Curtis Nowosad made a discerning choice in having critic Kevin Sun pen the liner notes to Dialectics in the sort of thoughtful and highly opinionated short essay we hard-core music aficionados lament will soon be lost in this idiotic industry-wide move to go download-only, a sortie I see as nigh doomed to failure across the boards. That, however, ahem!, is a subject for another day. As I threw the disc on and settled into its classic jazz refrains, I pored over Sun's words, enjoying though internally arguing some of his cerebrations, the main polemic revolving around the touchy subject of pigeon-holing. Disdaining the "digressions" of the "electric experimentation" of the 60s and 70s, a form I have high regard for and see as an extension of the free jazz commenced by the horizon geniuses of The Prime Era, Sun cites Nowosad's work as part of the "path forward".
I, though, see the work ideologically differently though I would have loved to have sat down over a couple shots of bourbon and engaged with Kevin, as I know exactly what he's speaking to…from his point of view. Mine, however, is that Nowosad and ensemble are re-evoking a form from certain waves of jazz history always in danger of being lost, for the precise reason I referred to: Curtis is HEAVILY into a mode that made the day of Mingus, Kirk, Monk, Miles, and all the rest so damnably precedential, an era that has yet to be surmounted…but he's also up to the minute within that very disciplined motif, as Sun notes. The CD's cuts wafted through my living room, transforming the moody SoCal milieu that day, and I even heard earlier antecedents in Jimmy Greene's saxwork: Charlie Parker and such, definitively the main progenitor of be-bop. This, per Sun's buddy's coinage, is 'neo-hard-bop' but also moves well beyond. I agree.
What, though, struck me immediately in the opener, Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil, is how solidly Nowosad crafted himself and bass player Steve Kirby into the CD's fundament, one of the best recent evocations of what it really means to be a dynamic rhythm section, Will Bonness' piano oft forming a triad with them, everything completely minus any sense of slavish metronomics or clichéd instrumentality. I mean this pair of cats is strong, muscular, pulsing, and highly intelligent in approaches opening the parameters for the trumpet, sax, and piano to lay into. A Casual Test, a Nowosad comp, demonstrates the effect: all three soloists pay strict attention to the melodics yet craft completely different narratives…and then come together for the main theme as Nowosad breaks things down percussively.
The laconic Reconciliation gives the listener a rest, letting all and sundry know the group is capable of reflection as well as mile-a-minute blowing and thinkery. Then comes Monk's Bye-Ya and the rev-up recommences, this time with Latinate threads coursing through the work. Nowosad inserts a rat-a-tat line in the song that sits you up in your seat, marveling. It's daring and perfectly apropos simultaneously. Sun put it perfectly about what's going on here: "Jazz is communities of artists with differing but related sensibilities from which streams of influence emanate and move through time concurrently". A critic's critic, that guy, and I couldn't have said it better, so he gets the last word…and if work like his gets scamped in the coming iPod world, we lose much in music's accompaniment aesthetics.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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