Paris Transatlantic review by Jason Bivins

Jorrit Dijkstra – Pillow Circles (CF 166)
Pillow Circles features nine compositions from the leader’s “Pillow Circle” series, vividly recorded in Amsterdam by a vibrant group of Chicagoans and Europeans, and one New Yorker: Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth, crackle box), Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano), trombonist Jeb Bishop, violist Oene Van Geel, guitarist Raphael Vanoli, Paul Pallesen (guitar, banjo), Jason Roebke (bass, crackle box), and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion, crackle box). They have an absolutely fantastic group sound, riotous, joyful, and tight as hell. Resourceful and imaginative, they bring to life Dijkstra’s ambitious, complex charts with tons of character and energy. Something about the taut rhythms and urgent chord changes on the opening “Pillow Circle 34” recall Marty Ehrlich’s or Tom Varner’s writing: there are graceful unisons and counterpoint from the horns, some gruff funk (chank-chank guitars and all) and delicious breakdowns. It’s a rousing start, but from there the group moves onto the tiny squiggles and round-the-circle statements of “Pillow Circle 41,” which vividly recalls Braxton’s early Creative Orchestra pieces. One of the things I really love about Dijkstra’s approach to pieces like this is his ear for the deft arrangement or sub-grouping, musical details that completely enliven things: here, as the music verges on a groove, Bishop comes up with low weeping noises as Pallesen’s banjo fusses. Dijkstra gets deeper into the sound of the strings – both woody plucks and electric swells – on “Pillow Circle 18,” which after a fanfare comes to settle into a gently rippling country lament. “Pillow Circle 65” has a lovely circuitous theme for high horns and guitars, with a more chugging riff for lower register instruments wending its way underneath, all clearing the way for a really gorgeous Malaby solo. There’s an interesting dedication to Robert Ashley on “Pillow Circle 88,” which is filled with percolations, repetitions, and beeping or crashing guitars. “Pillow Circle 10” withdraws even more intensely into abstraction, with groans, creaks, and whooshes of air. As impressive as these pieces are, I found myself stirred by the gorgeous anthem “Pillow Circle 19” and “Pillow Circle 23,” a dedication to Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, which is shot through with deep Mingus sensibilities. Top shelf!

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