Aside from striking musical gold coming out of Italy and Germany on an all most monthly basis, the New York scene is where I focus a great deal of my attention and Dirigo Rataplan is perhaps the prime example as to why. First-call drummer-composer Devin Gray releases a stunning debut set of originals on April the 10th on Skirl Records with a phenomenal lineup including saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou and bassist Michael Formanek. The sonic landscape painted here runs from the Don Cherry - evoking "Quadraphonically" to the eclectic Charles Ives homage "Prospect Park After Dark" with Dirigo Rataplan acting as the ideal showpiece for an effortless organic and captivating mix of composition and structure juxtaposed to a more open ended improvisational freedom.
With a title as intriguing as the music the word "dirigo" comes from the meaning to lead in Latin while "rataplan" is french for the beating of hooves or drums so in short - to lead from the beat which Gray does while always keeping the music center stage and never approaching the self indulgent bash fest so many drummers would naturally gravitate towards. Bassist Formanek is on record noting the open ended freedom of Gray's work allowing for the compositions to develop a more natural progression and an appreciation for the resulting musical freedom afforded the participants.
"Quadraphonically" opens with a smoldering percussive undercurrent as the Eskelin and Ballou lay a foundation of dynamic tension and shifting harmonics with Formanek expertly following and in some cases taking the lead. Their is a unique lyrical intensity while never sacrificing the rhythmic character or energy of this piece. A sonic exploratory where voices are established and reestablished as the harmonics are shifted on the fly. "Downtime" is a decidedly more hard bop movement of improvisational discovery. This open ended approach lends itself to a warmth and originality in an all most live sonic self discovery of where the lyrical destination may be heading. Devin Gray does not rest comfortably in the pocket, the traditional pocket as drummers have come to know is a thing of the past with Gray. A percussive lead voice of controlled fury acts as sonic tour guide for Dave Ballou and Ellery Eskelin as their own voices merge in an intriguing cohesion of harmonic unity. Closing with "Katahdin"there is the lyrical sense of purpose, the melodic direction that despite the occasional rhythmic sonic side road traveled has never wavered in consistency.
A critics worst nightmare in that conventional industry labeling can not be applied here. Bassist Formanek stated the ultimate goal of the project is to simply make good music which has been achieved with relative ease here. Slapping the avant gard or free jazz label on an open ended hard bop exploratory would be inherently unfair. Dirigo Rataplan is a stunning release with an all most three dimensional sonic depth of field. An open ended musical idea where rhythmic expression allows both the listener as well as the participants on the recording to venture into any sonic territory of their choosing.
Thinking outside of the box is a good thing!
Tracks: Quadraphonically; Cancel the Cancel; Down Time; Prospect Park in the Dark; Talking With Hands; Otaku; Thickets; Katahdin.
Personnel: Devin Gray: drums; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Michael Formanek: double-bass.