|JazzReview.Com: With Coalescence, Whit Dickey steps out of the shadows of his former bosses Matthew Shipp and David S. Ware, announcing his presence as a confident bandleader and composer. With suitable allies in Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto sax and flute, and Joe Morris on bass, there is much of interest on the four lengthy songs comprising the disc.
Dickey's playing hasn't mellowed over the years, as some seem to suggest, but he has finally begun to show a certain amount of finesse, something lacking in earlier efforts such as Ware's Cyrptology, where he could be accused of being a bit ham-fisted. Not so on Coalescence, where Dickey provides a solid balance between propulsion and swing, between strength and nuance. His range is perhaps most evident on "Coalescence 1", a mid-tempo swing finding Dickey sounding somewhat like Ed Blackwell gone heavy, mixing his time-keeping between cymbals and drums, with out-of-tempo phrases that snap back in place at just the right moments. His lengthy solo gestures towards Elvin, but with a more rough-hewn feel.
"Steam" finds him in lumbering mode (perhaps ironically given the title), bringing a sluggish feel to the work that he has touched upon throughout his career. To call Dickey's playing sluggish is not meant as a criticism, though, as his is an oddly effective approach to time, making the listener acutely aware of hindrance while still feeling compelled to tap a foot to the beat. It has a bit to do with the cymbals that he favors, almost completely lacking in sustain, and the low-pitched toms that make up his set; and it has a lot to do with his dynamics and his phrasings, both tending toward the monolithic. Dickey's approach, unlike that of someone like Sunny Murray, is not about a shimmering vibrancy. It's closer to huge blocks of granite rolling slowly down a hill.
"Coalescence 2" finds him in freer territory, playing rapid rolls on the very edges of the drum heads, splashing at his hi-hats (which are an important component of his sound as well), and barely hinting at a beat throughout its 13 minutes. As a leader it is an interesting piece, especially as he provides ample space to his compatriots rather than stepping wholly into the limelight.
And it is his colleagues on the set, the ever-compelling Campbell most notably, that help to round out the picture. Campbell has proven himself to be the most convincing heir to Don Cherry recording today, with a unique ability to distort the lines between amateurism and virtuosity. His constant blurring and smearing of notes, his utterly unique phrasing, and his willingness to gnaw away at a phrase to the breaking point all mark his voice as one of the highlights of the contemporary improvised scene. His solo on "Mojo Rising" is only one of the many fine examples of his diverse approach to his instrument, moving across all ranges, incorporating sharp staccatos and dirty legato phrasings, and ending in a near growl into oblivion.
Rob Brown proves himself integral to the music as well, both on alto and in a superlative moment on flute during "Steam", providing a nice lightness to the proceedings. His playing on the piece is full of vibrato and a yearning intensity, both beautiful and mournful. His interplay with Campbell on "Coalescence 2" is one of the high points of the session, the two being of one mind in the proceedings, squabbling and skirmishing, matching each other note for note, feel for feel.
Joe Morris' bass playing is becoming increasingly well known, and his intensity is rarely matched. Although he tends to bulldoze at times (the opening "Mojo Rising" suggests he may have disappeared into his own world), he brings a singular feel to any session. In a way, he provides Dickey with the space needed to let up a bit, and for that his playing is the definition of complimentary. His walking line on "Coalescence 1" shows his range and thoughtfulness as well and should put to rest any notions that he is some sort of hack on bass. "Steam", taken arco, is another striking moment as is the nuanced foundation he provides on the closing number.
Coalescence is a masterful album, and surely will turn up on end of the year top ten lists. It is Dickey's best calling card to date, both as bandleader and composer, and presents a unique ear working in collaboration with a mighty group.