Michael Dessen Trio: Forget The Pixel (CF 222)
Trombonist Michael Dessen once studied with George Lewis, hung with Ray Anderson, and has ascended to their level on the creative improvising scene. Dessen has his own distinct style, one that values nuanced gestures as highly as it does exuberance; therefore his music creates a micro world of detail and organically developed themes.
The music for this album was actualized over the course of a year of experimentation. Dessen’s trio-mates live in NYC, and he would visit from his home in Irvine, California to explore and record ideas, forms and cells, then return home to expand and extrapolate those ideas until the seven pieces that comprise this suite were fully formed. There is a surprising amount of written material at hand and it is seamlessly integrated into the improvisational content—forming new aural pathways.
The trio could hardly be more simpatico: Christopher Tordini is a virtuoso bassist who often shares melodic responsibility with the leader. He tempers his considerable chops into a less-is-more aesthetic that always favors the music. Drummer Dan Weiss is likewise an astonishing percussionist who seems to operate on multiple degrees of quiet intensity. When Weiss gets agitated, it propels the music into uncharted territory, and something as seemingly simple as using the brushes becomes a defiance of expectation in his hands.
It’s hard to find a precedent for trio music this balanced and dynamic. One that does seem appropriate is the sublime saxophonist Henry Threadgill’s three-way cooperative Air which explored and codified myriad examples of new music expression in the 1980s and beyond. There is a similar feeling of give and take going on here—as well as an adventurous imagination about structure and form.
The disc begins with the energetic and occasionally violent group exchange of “Fossils and Flows” which carries a strong asymmetrical pulse that drives the music with a loping gait. Dessen pulls and stretches the melody like saltwater taffy—then suddenly, his live laptop electronics enter—acting as a fourth voice in the trio, and setting off some chaotic interplay.
Weiss’ off-centered cymbal washes begin “And We Steal From The Silkworm” before Tordini’s slow, soliloquy of one-note-at-a-time leads Dessen into the melody, measured and probing, before morphing into “Forget The Pixel,” a clarion call of wide vibrato, animal calls and electronic manipulations.
“Licensed Unoperators” explores some architectural improvising methods inspired by the Canadian free jazz bassist Lisle Ellis that utilize written instructions and blocks of sonic activity of indeterminate length. Finally, “The Utopian Tense Of Green” begins as a sensual dance between trombone and bass that quiets down for some exquisite micro-percussive gestures and then veers off into an ethereal trombone choir fading into a quiet reverie that ends the album.
Dessen, Tordini and Weiss have created something very unique and quite beautiful with Forget The Pixel. which both demands and rewards repeated listening.