In his new release entitled Nerve Dance, saxophonist Michaël Attias focuses on a set of 11 exuberant originals (two of them by Hébert) in the company of pianist Aruan Ortiz, long-time associate bassist John Hébert, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
This is Attias’ sixth album on Clean Feed as a leader, after Credo (2005), Twines of Colesion (2008), Renku in Coimbra (2009), Spun Tree (2012), and Renku Live in Greenwich Village (2016).
As a sideman, Attias has been a regular choice of pianist Anthony Coleman and lent his engrossing sax lines for punctual works by Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Tony Malaby, John Hébert, and Eric Revis.
The chemistry of the quartet takes immediate effect on the first tune “Dark Net”, a crossroad between Andrew Hill and Steve Coleman. Attias throws in complex-yet-attractive phrases while Waits is constantly on the edge, defying the limits of stability and infusing all his rhythmic force, especially during and after Ortiz’s inventive improvisation. Hébert throbs along, assuring a resilient foundation from below and everything ends up in a groovy vamp with a sax ostinato.
“Nerve & Limbo” is clearly split into two sections. On the first one, the rhythm section prepares a modern-Latin pulse that waits for Attias’ ingress à-la Coltrane. This nervy rampage gives place to a minimalistic pianism to start the more reflective Limbo part.
There’s a sense of urgency in “Scribble Job Yin Yang”, which opens with Hébert plucking the bass strings heartily. The tune achieves an accordant balance between dark and light after some stormy inflections magnified by the bandleader’s rebellious attitude, Ortiz’s dancing chords, and Waits’s snare-drum gusts.
Variety is an important aspect in Attias’ body of work. Thus, significant differences can be found between “Moonmouth”, a floating ballad brought up with neo-classical intonations and a Threadgill-like approach, “Le Pese-Nerfs”, a deliberated experimental piece delivered with rhythmic displacements and bright-hued sax squeals, and Hébert’s “Rodger Lodge”, a post-bop portrayal with a charming thematic melody.
All four members demonstrate an amazing sense of tempo and strong unity in the enigmatic and vindicatory “La Part Maudite” while in “Dream in a Mirror” we have beautiful solo incursions by Waits and Hébert for a start. Ortiz’s voicings delicately match Hébert’s notes and both welcome Attias’ Coltrane-influenced spiritual blows.
The record finishes with engaging reciprocities through “Nasheet”, a tune composed by Hébert and dedicated to Waits with whom he meshes so well.
It’s inevitable to get stuck in this conceptual and textural web of sound and rhythm. Attias, stronger than ever, seems to have found his fabulous four.
Nerve Dance is a suburban ritualistic journey, an ear-opener, and an asset for any lover of contemporary jazz.