Signal to Noise review by Nate Dorward


CF 106Michael Dessen – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
It’s nice to see West Coast trombonist Michael Dessen getting a little higher profile lately, what with this new trio effort on the insanely prolific Clean Feed label and a new release on Cuneiform by Cosmologic, the crack freebop quartet of which he’s a member. Between Shadow and Space represents a different facet of his work from Cosmologic or his excellent debut Lineal (Circumvention 2007) since Dessen makes substantial use of laptop electronics throughout. The results are fantastically subtle, imaginative extensions of his trombone’s sound – feathery rufflings, pixelized halos, teasing curlicues and rasps – and he mercifully avoids the bleep-bloop cliches that sink a lot of similar projects. The title track is one of the CD’s few purely acoustic pieces, and it’s a killer: a funky elongated groove sliced-through with silences and repetitions, the effect being a kind of mournful stillness-in-movement. “Restless Years” and “Anthesis” similarly touch on the kind of metrical intricacy that Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa have made their own in recent years, and the presence of their frequent companion Tyshawn Sorey on drums cements the connection. Dessen’s music, though, has a more ambiguous flavor, the players drawing back from the groove as often as they seize on it, even if both tracks end with triumphant intensity. Another side of Dessen’s aesthetic is represented by the enigmatic multisectioned pieces “Chocolate Geometry” and “Granulorum,” whose dreamy structures are full of irrational climaxes and moments of secretive self-communion. The disc is completed by a stealthy Dessen/Sorey free improv and a memorial for Alice Coltrane, whose drizzling, swarming electronics suggest a light streaming out of a stained-glass window. Aside from the fine work by Sorey and the leader, bassist Christopher Tordini brings fine rhythmic flair and emotional undertow to the music – listen, in particular, to the way “Anthesis” unfurls note by note out of his rich double-stopped introduction.

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