After spending the mid-'90s in the bands of Mathew Shipp and David S. Ware, among others, drummer Whit Dickey dropped out in order to concentrate on his own music. For his third release as a leader, Dickey's Life Cycle features his new band, the Nommonsemble, which Dickey populates with familiar AUM Fidelity faces, though playing in a new configuration. Matthew Shipp takes the piano chair; violinist Mat Maneri and alto saxophonist Rob Brown (who returns from Dickey's debut recording) share what amounts to a front-line horn role.
Reflecting Dickey's nascent interest in philosophy/religion, Life Cycle consists of six tunes with names that, in sequence, read like some form of spiritual or sociological development: "Wonder," "War," "Games," "Love," "Acceptance" and "Transformation." Of course, anyone familiar with any of the aforementioned band members knows, titles aside, that this recording will have little to do with new-age comfort sound. The most accessible tune of the lot, "Wonder," sounds like a ballad gracefully vaporizing. The song rests upon Dickey's slow, loping beat beneath Shipp's austere chords and minimalist lines. Brown, at his most expressive, plays over the ensemble with a frayed, weary tone. In the considerably more aggressive "War," Brown and Maneri's establish a manic pattern of call-and-response that eventually collapses into scratchy, overlapping lines. "Games," a restless improv, only breaks its doggedness fleetingly, when for a few seconds Brown's plaintive wail meets Shipp's momentarily Tynerlike chords. "Transformation" proves even more recalcitrant than "Games." It just builds in intensity, as Maneri and Brown play ever more furiously over Shipp's drone.
Though obdurate and knotty on the whole, Life Cycle maintains a calm and spacious core throughout, which is due largely to Dickey's drumming and his sensitive interaction with Shipp. Maneri and Brown have their moments. Shipp and Dickey's contributions, especially early on, make the lasting impression.