Michael Dessen Trio - Somewhere In the Upstream

Label: Clean Feed, 2018

Personnel - Michael Dessen: trombone, electronics; Chris Tordini: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

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Trombonist Michael Dessen, a serious up-and-comer specialized in an artistic blend of composition, improvisation and technology, has been a regular presence on the Clean Feed roster with an experimental electro-acoustic trio that includes bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss. This stellar rhythm section provides him robust and malleable textures that serve his impromptu flares, occasionally populated with electronic elements. The 50-minute Somewhere in the Upstream is a conceptual work divided into eight parts and based on Dessen’s ‘scorestream’, a process in which sonic sculptures are formed upon a real time reading and interpretation of a longform score displayed on a screen. The work is dedicated to the late multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef and transcends categories.

A trombone solo launches "Part 1", which displays an independent bass flow at the base and gains a distinctive flavor with Weiss’ digressive impetuosity. The initial combination of snare and cymbal moves are extended to the tom-toms, going well with the practices of the bassist, whose solo departs from the theme’s melody to explore further. The transition from "Part 1" to "Part2", a bubbly wha-wha psychedelia with deep-toned notes and a sort of reverse-synth sound effect, is made through robotic sounds, free bass peregrinations, and a poised amalgam of rimshots and hi-hat activity.

On "Part 3", darker vibes flow from Tordini’s bass, bumping into soaring trombone lines. By the end, the energy is compressed and the abstraction enlarged. If the latter piece has a serendipitous nature, then "Part 4" has the trio functioning in a pure jazz mode while boasting a finely calibrated rhythmic strategy between bass and drums. At first, short trombone phrases can be heard on top of a roving bass motion and jittery hi-hat drumming. After a while, trombone and bass align positions, heading in the same direction, while Weiss’ snare chatter prepares the listeners for a nearly 3-minute masterful improvisation that constitute most of "Part 5".

The ten-minute "Part 8" boasts a rock-tinged intensity that favors the bandleader’s individual stretches. Melodic ideas, dropped down with a fluid sense of language, encourage the rhythm team to build the ground level with deep-rooted grooves and dramatic, propulsive beats. 

The band keeps the experiment going on the spur of the moment, layering luxe rhythmic textures with a mix of brassy avant-jazz and electronic fantasia. Avoiding overt suggestions, the music may take you to accessible or recondite places, and that’s exactly from where the pleasure of listening to it comes.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Part 1 ► 04 - Part 4 ► 08 - Part 8