|Free jazz has long aligned with the liberal Left. The allegiance only makes sense given the idiom’s marginalized status and origins as a revisionist response to the larger art form’s status quo. Few musicians on the scene are also card-carrying conservatives.
Consequently, Whit Dickey’s political leanings and his inclination to voice them through music aren’t much of a surprise. The final three tracks on his new album leave little doubt to his ideological stance, particularly the sardonic “Dubya’s Flying Lesson,” a ferociously dense militaristic march that draws a damning portrait of its subject with a poison-tipped musical pen. With arts & humanities funding repeatedly on the economic excising block it seems more than fair to fire a few pointed missives back over the regime’s cash-clogged bow.
A like-minded ensemble joins Dickey on soapbox, one that constitutes an All-Star squad of New York and Boston-based stalwarts. The presence of Chris Lightcap on bass allows Joe Morris the latitude to hoist his more venerable axe and its great to hear him again with plectrum poised against strings. Well-accustomed to each other’s eccentricities, the frontline of Roy Campbell, Jr. and Rob Brown delivers as they have so many times in the past. Carla Bley’s “Calls,” the only cover of the set, kick-starts the band. After an ensemble theme, Campbell takes the lead joined by Dickey and Lightcap with Morris periodically stitching in coruscating bent notes. The baton passes to Brown and then Morris, both of whom ride out frothy support and come up with cogent statements in their customary dialects. Lightcap brings up the rear, his digits tugging out pulsing improvisation that relies heavily on the resounding elastic snaps of his strings.
The cardiac pulse continues into the title track, a bustling free-form foray lined with sharp harmonic barbs and rhythmic trap-doors. Brown is at his most Lyons-like here, an acrid nasalized, intonation energizing his pouncing intervallic cries. Campbell answers in kind with his own flood of flush-faced brassy streams that eventually taper into a pinched duet with Morris’ tatting plucks. It’s this sort of boisterous, briskly paced freebop at which he so frequently excels. Dickey offers near constant rhythmic commentary on the action, switching from flurried stickplay to textured, barely perceptible patter and back again, continually keeping the ensemble on the move toward a crescendoing cloud burst of a close.
“Peace Overture” scales the band’s ardor back to more a more ruminative perch. Brown and Campbell shape lush harmonies from the frontline gilded once again by Morris’ shimmering single notes. The leader colors the cracks with cottony brushes while Lightcap traffics in his usual wide-girthed throb. Dickey’s style of drumming has undergone a string of changes since he first hit the scene in late 80s. Self-mandated sabbaticals and various false starts behind him, he’s arguably at the peak of his powers these days. With longtime colleagues in tow the results of this effort make good on the promise and yield one of the stronger statements of his career.
~ Derek Taylor