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Devin Gray - Dirigo Rataplan ll Rating: 4 out of 5 Gray is a talented composer who has written some memorable themes for the quartet to improvise around. Intelligent, challenging, but ultimately enjoyable music skilfully played by 4 leading exponents.

Devin Gray

“Dirigo Rataplan II”

(Rataplan Records RR001)

Originally from the US state of Maine drummer and composer Devin Gray is now based in Brooklyn where he has become a major player on the cutting edge of the New York City jazz scene.

This second, self issued Dirigo Rataplan release reconvenes the line up that recorded the original “Dirigo Rataplan” album on the Skirl record label back in 2012. Once again Gray is joined by a stellar line up featuring Ellery Eskelin ( tenor sax), Michael Formanek (double bass) and Dave Ballou (trumpet), all leading figures on the American jazz and experimental music circuit.

Gray is busy and versatile musician who is involved with numerous other projects. The best known of these is probably RelativE ResonancE, another quartet led by the drummer that features Chris Speed on tenor sax, Chris Tordini on bass and Kris Davis at the piano. A trio version of this group featuring Gray, Speed and bassist Drew Gress played at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-monday-november-13th-2017/

Gray also leads Fashionable Pop Music, another quartet, featuring Tordini plus twin guitarists Jonathan Goldberger and Ryan Ferreira. Yet another four piece is Meta Cache featuring clarinettist Jeremy Viner, pianist Elias Stemeseder and bassist Kim Cass. Meanwhile the trio Cloudsounds features saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Corey Smythe.

Gray has recorded with all of these ensembles but a glance at his website http://www.devingraymusic.com reveals that he is also involved with numerous other projects as leader, co-leader and sideman. In the latter capacity he has worked with trumpeters Nate Woolley and Daniel Levine and with saxophonists Dave Liebman and Tony Malaby, plus many other leading figures of contemporary American jazz.

With its chordless line up Dirigo Rataplan is influenced by the work of saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill, bassist Dave Holland and pianist Craig Taborn among others. The music on “Dirigo Rataplan II” explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation with Gray emphasising that there is a greater degree of free improvisation on this recording than there was on Volume One. However Gray’s compositions are also rich in terms of melody and harmony, with his tunes offering plenty of scope for the musicians to be able to express themselves. Formanek says of his rhythm partner’s writing;
“This music is free and open with a lot of room for improvisation, but the tunes also have an intrinsic rhythmic and melodic character to them, a colour and energy.”


With this release Gray feels that “the melodic fluidity between the composition and the improvisation is more seamless, with one flowing into the other in a way that I really like”.
A case in point is the opening “Congruently” which features the rich, warm blend of Eskelin’s tenor and Ballou’s trumpet allied to the fluid, loose limbed rhythms of Gray and Formanek. An attractive opening theme featuring the elegant dovetailing of the horns leads to more more full-blooded, open ended improvising with the horns pirouetting around in each other in spirited but graceful dialogue as Gray and Formanek provide the constantly unfolding rhythmic flow around which Eskelin and Ballou can dance.

“Rollin’ Thru Town” incorporates a fleeting theme statement followed by a passage of knotty improvisation with the horns sparring gently above the fluent rhythms, the quartet eventually coalescing towards the end around the fulcrum of Formanek’s bass.

The bassist is also the anchor of “Trends of Trending”, his melodic and propulsive motif introducing the tune as Gray’s drums patter around him. Long horn melody lines and the sheer musicality of Gray’s drumming briefly reminds of the UK’s own Polar Bear, but this thought is quickly extinguished as the music takes a more abstract turn with the quartet diving more deeply into improvised waters, the group conversation becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses. Things eventually resolve themselves with a punchy closing written passage.

“Texicate” sounds entirely improvised with hesitant, pecked horn exchanges punctuated by the furtive rustle of Gray’s drums with Formanek’s bass coming late to the proceedings. It’s very much a conversation between equals, one can sense the musicians listening to each other, even towards the closing stages when the music becomes more animated and restless.

I’m not sure if “The Wire” is named for the TV programme or the magazine or something else entirely. It’s a more obviously written piece with deep grooves and an arresting opening unison horn melody. But it’s not long before Eskelin is stretching out with a powerful tenor solo, propelled by Gray’s fluid but dynamic drumming and Formanek’s muscular bass. Hitherto the horns have worked together, this piece being the first one where they truly diverge, and Ballou follows Eskelin with an impressive solo statement of his own. Finally the horns, and indeed the whole group, are united with what at first promises to be a closing theme statement, but even this splinters into improvised abstraction.

“Quantum Cryptology” commences with a melodic trumpet flourish from Ballou, but it’s subsequently Formanek’s earthy bass that sets the tone, his resonant plucking the foil for Eskelin’s tenor sax meditations. Ballou’s astonishing trumpeting brings an other worldly feel to the proceedings, whether solo or in dialogue with Gray as the track moves deeper into freely improvised territory and Formanek picks up his bow. Again the improvising is highly empathic, gratuitous noise and bluster isn’t what Dirigo Rataplan is about, despite a rousing more obviously written passage towards the close.

Gray’s brushed drums introduce “What We Learn From Cities” with Formanek’s pliant but muscular bass subsequently picking up the reins. The rhythm team provide the impetus for the sinuous dialogue between the intertwining horns, with Formanek’s bass sometimes taking over the lead.

“The Feeling Of Healing” is dedicated to Steve Grover, Gray’s former teacher in Maine, and features an attractive opening theme that subsequently shades off into atmospheric avant garde abstraction with the horns plus Formanek’s grainy arco bass coalescing around the clicks and rustles of the leader’s drums. At times the music becomes so quiet that it is almost subliminal as Gray and his colleagues go even further out, before reeling things in again at the end with an extended return tofthe opening theme.

“Intrepid Travellers” might be a suitable alternative group moniker for this supremely well balanced quartet. The piece of that name features one of Gray’s most attractive melodies, around which Ballou and Eskelin swoop and circle gracefully. But the stand out moment comes with Formanek’s virtuoso pizzicato bass solo, his inventive, melodic, deeply resonant plucking skilfully shadowed by Gray.

The closing “Micro Dosage” represents an energetic, spiky, garrulous coda with the four musicians jostling for space with bustling bass and drums competing with short, clipped horn phrases before coming together with some impressive unison passages.

The constantly mutating music of the Dirigo Rataplan group isn’t particularly easy to write about, but to these ears it’s damn good to listen to. This is a very well calibrated and beautifully balanced quartet, a band of equals, all serving the music faithfully and diligently in a collective endeavour where all egos are checked in at the door despite the evident virtuosity of the musicians involved.
Nobody stands out but everybody stands out in an excellent example of collective creativity. As the leader Gray sublimates his own playing to the good of the music, no drum solos, but he excels in his role as colourist and accompanist whilst also subtly shaping the flow of the music through his writing and playing.

There’s no conventional jazz swing in Dirigo Rataplan’s music which may alienate some listeners, but for all its adventurousness the quartet’s music remains readily accessible. It’s location in a place that straddles the borders between composition and improvisation is one that I personally find very appealing. Gray is a talented composer who has written some memorable themes for the quartet to improvise around. This is intelligent, challenging, but ultimately enjoyable music skilfully played by four leading exponents of the genre.

Dirigo Rataplan ll

Devin Gray

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Dirigo Rataplan ll

Gray is a talented composer who has written some memorable themes for the quartet to improvise around. Intelligent, challenging, but ultimately enjoyable music skilfully played by 4 leading exponents.

Devin Gray

“Dirigo Rataplan II”

(Rataplan Records RR001)

Originally from the US state of Maine drummer and composer Devin Gray is now based in Brooklyn where he has become a major player on the cutting edge of the New York City jazz scene.

This second, self issued Dirigo Rataplan release reconvenes the line up that recorded the original “Dirigo Rataplan” album on the Skirl record label back in 2012. Once again Gray is joined by a stellar line up featuring Ellery Eskelin ( tenor sax), Michael Formanek (double bass) and Dave Ballou (trumpet), all leading figures on the American jazz and experimental music circuit.

Gray is busy and versatile musician who is involved with numerous other projects. The best known of these is probably RelativE ResonancE, another quartet led by the drummer that features Chris Speed on tenor sax, Chris Tordini on bass and Kris Davis at the piano. A trio version of this group featuring Gray, Speed and bassist Drew Gress played at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-monday-november-13th-2017/

Gray also leads Fashionable Pop Music, another quartet, featuring Tordini plus twin guitarists Jonathan Goldberger and Ryan Ferreira. Yet another four piece is Meta Cache featuring clarinettist Jeremy Viner, pianist Elias Stemeseder and bassist Kim Cass. Meanwhile the trio Cloudsounds features saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Corey Smythe.

Gray has recorded with all of these ensembles but a glance at his website http://www.devingraymusic.com reveals that he is also involved with numerous other projects as leader, co-leader and sideman. In the latter capacity he has worked with trumpeters Nate Woolley and Daniel Levine and with saxophonists Dave Liebman and Tony Malaby, plus many other leading figures of contemporary American jazz.

With its chordless line up Dirigo Rataplan is influenced by the work of saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill, bassist Dave Holland and pianist Craig Taborn among others. The music on “Dirigo Rataplan II” explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation with Gray emphasising that there is a greater degree of free improvisation on this recording than there was on Volume One. However Gray’s compositions are also rich in terms of melody and harmony, with his tunes offering plenty of scope for the musicians to be able to express themselves. Formanek says of his rhythm partner’s writing;
“This music is free and open with a lot of room for improvisation, but the tunes also have an intrinsic rhythmic and melodic character to them, a colour and energy.”


With this release Gray feels that “the melodic fluidity between the composition and the improvisation is more seamless, with one flowing into the other in a way that I really like”.
A case in point is the opening “Congruently” which features the rich, warm blend of Eskelin’s tenor and Ballou’s trumpet allied to the fluid, loose limbed rhythms of Gray and Formanek. An attractive opening theme featuring the elegant dovetailing of the horns leads to more more full-blooded, open ended improvising with the horns pirouetting around in each other in spirited but graceful dialogue as Gray and Formanek provide the constantly unfolding rhythmic flow around which Eskelin and Ballou can dance.

“Rollin’ Thru Town” incorporates a fleeting theme statement followed by a passage of knotty improvisation with the horns sparring gently above the fluent rhythms, the quartet eventually coalescing towards the end around the fulcrum of Formanek’s bass.

The bassist is also the anchor of “Trends of Trending”, his melodic and propulsive motif introducing the tune as Gray’s drums patter around him. Long horn melody lines and the sheer musicality of Gray’s drumming briefly reminds of the UK’s own Polar Bear, but this thought is quickly extinguished as the music takes a more abstract turn with the quartet diving more deeply into improvised waters, the group conversation becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses. Things eventually resolve themselves with a punchy closing written passage.

“Texicate” sounds entirely improvised with hesitant, pecked horn exchanges punctuated by the furtive rustle of Gray’s drums with Formanek’s bass coming late to the proceedings. It’s very much a conversation between equals, one can sense the musicians listening to each other, even towards the closing stages when the music becomes more animated and restless.

I’m not sure if “The Wire” is named for the TV programme or the magazine or something else entirely. It’s a more obviously written piece with deep grooves and an arresting opening unison horn melody. But it’s not long before Eskelin is stretching out with a powerful tenor solo, propelled by Gray’s fluid but dynamic drumming and Formanek’s muscular bass. Hitherto the horns have worked together, this piece being the first one where they truly diverge, and Ballou follows Eskelin with an impressive solo statement of his own. Finally the horns, and indeed the whole group, are united with what at first promises to be a closing theme statement, but even this splinters into improvised abstraction.

“Quantum Cryptology” commences with a melodic trumpet flourish from Ballou, but it’s subsequently Formanek’s earthy bass that sets the tone, his resonant plucking the foil for Eskelin’s tenor sax meditations. Ballou’s astonishing trumpeting brings an other worldly feel to the proceedings, whether solo or in dialogue with Gray as the track moves deeper into freely improvised territory and Formanek picks up his bow. Again the improvising is highly empathic, gratuitous noise and bluster isn’t what Dirigo Rataplan is about, despite a rousing more obviously written passage towards the close.

Gray’s brushed drums introduce “What We Learn From Cities” with Formanek’s pliant but muscular bass subsequently picking up the reins. The rhythm team provide the impetus for the sinuous dialogue between the intertwining horns, with Formanek’s bass sometimes taking over the lead.

“The Feeling Of Healing” is dedicated to Steve Grover, Gray’s former teacher in Maine, and features an attractive opening theme that subsequently shades off into atmospheric avant garde abstraction with the horns plus Formanek’s grainy arco bass coalescing around the clicks and rustles of the leader’s drums. At times the music becomes so quiet that it is almost subliminal as Gray and his colleagues go even further out, before reeling things in again at the end with an extended return tofthe opening theme.

“Intrepid Travellers” might be a suitable alternative group moniker for this supremely well balanced quartet. The piece of that name features one of Gray’s most attractive melodies, around which Ballou and Eskelin swoop and circle gracefully. But the stand out moment comes with Formanek’s virtuoso pizzicato bass solo, his inventive, melodic, deeply resonant plucking skilfully shadowed by Gray.

The closing “Micro Dosage” represents an energetic, spiky, garrulous coda with the four musicians jostling for space with bustling bass and drums competing with short, clipped horn phrases before coming together with some impressive unison passages.

The constantly mutating music of the Dirigo Rataplan group isn’t particularly easy to write about, but to these ears it’s damn good to listen to. This is a very well calibrated and beautifully balanced quartet, a band of equals, all serving the music faithfully and diligently in a collective endeavour where all egos are checked in at the door despite the evident virtuosity of the musicians involved.
Nobody stands out but everybody stands out in an excellent example of collective creativity. As the leader Gray sublimates his own playing to the good of the music, no drum solos, but he excels in his role as colourist and accompanist whilst also subtly shaping the flow of the music through his writing and playing.

There’s no conventional jazz swing in Dirigo Rataplan’s music which may alienate some listeners, but for all its adventurousness the quartet’s music remains readily accessible. It’s location in a place that straddles the borders between composition and improvisation is one that I personally find very appealing. Gray is a talented composer who has written some memorable themes for the quartet to improvise around. This is intelligent, challenging, but ultimately enjoyable music skilfully played by four leading exponents of the genre.


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