Clean Feed: Between Shadow and Space & Drunk Butterfly
Michael Dessen Trio
Adam Lane / Lou Grassi / Mark Whitecage
The Portuguese label Clean Feed has cast a wide net since its inception in 2001. And as it has gained momentumits inaugural year saw just three releases while so far 2008 has birthed 19it has become less an imprint and more of a time capsule of a particularly fertile period in creative music. In purely musical terms, Clean Feed documents modern New York (and Lisbon and Chicago and others) like BYG-Actuel documented late '60s Paris or FMP '70s and '80s Berlin. And while those labels had a distinct aesthetic listeners could hang their hats on, Clean Feed's strength is in its diversity.
One thing is for certain though. The folks at Clean Feed like their trios, with close to half of this year's releases working in that format. Perhaps it is not intentional but then again some of the most creative output has come from three individuals working closely together; hey, it worked for the Musketeers and the Chipmunks. Two recent releases collaborative efforts across several generationsare strong trio discs that burnish Clean Feed's already impressive credentials.
The trombone has finally caught up with and to some extentlapped the saxophone as an instrument for experimentation. Players like Roswell Rudd, Ray Anderson and Joe Fiedler (all with discs on the label) have contributed to this renaissance. Michael Dessen, hailing from the West Coast, is a fine probing player as a leader, composer and conceptualist as well as a member of the compelling Cosmologic quartet. His second album as a leader, Between Shadow and Space, is a seven-track affair, Dessen's trombone and far-more-than-incidental electronics (utilized for five of the pieces) buoyed by the activist rhythm section of Christopher Tordini and Tyshawn Sorey (himself a mean trombonist on the side). Dessen composed all the music except for a duo improvisation with Sorey and while time can be spent lauding his technical facility or the group's heady interplay, more attention should be given to the pieces' underlying architecture. Dessen's liner notes give explicative heft to the musicthe material draws its inspiration from sources artistic, poetic and musicalbut they can be enjoyed as cerebral musings with more than a touch of heart, art for more than art's sake.
Scientists used to give spiders stimulants and depressants to see what kind of webs they would weave. Butterflies though were never plied with alcohol for scientific research so it is up to bassist Adam Lane, drummer Lou Grassi and reedman Mark Whitecage (alto sax and clarinet only here) to imagine the possible effects on Drunk Butterfly. What might initially be considered in terms of reed-led trios is quickly transmogrified into that favorite notion in the avant-garde, the collective ensemble. But it's true! All three musicians are accomplished composers for their own groups and each brings music both new and used to the proceedings, though perhaps Lane's dark-hued works stand out. And more than just supplying notes, the trio contributes equal doses of spirit for this first-time venture. Especially appealing is seeing how three musicians from different eras and backgrounds find common purpose in each other's modes, never sounding tentative or consumed with ego. Drunk Butterfly is not too out, not too in, just the right side of tipsy. It is hoped that the trio continues to receive funding for future research.
Tracks and Personnel
Between Shadow and Space
Tracks: Between Shadow and Space; Chocolate Geometry (for MSD); Restless Years; Duo Improvisation; Anthesis; Granulorum; Water Seeks (for AC).
Personnel: Michael Dessen: trombone, computer; Christopher Tordini: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: percussion.
Tracks: The Last of the Beboppers; Sanctum; Like Nothing Else; Chichi Rides the Tiger; Drunk Butterfly; Avanti Galoppi; Marshall; Imaginary Portrait; Five O' Clock Follies.
Personnel: Mark Whitecage: alto saxophone, clarinet; Adam Lane: double-bass; Lou Grassi: drums.