Plunge: Dancing on Thin Ice

When trombonist Mark McGrain, sax player Tim Green and bassist James Singleton assembled to create the group Plunge, they must have had a specific musical purpose in mind to develop their sound. In Dancing on Thin Ice, the blending of even-tempo instrumental tonality illustrates this purpose, the quirkiness of human voice modulation and electronics, notwithstanding.

The trombone and saxophones stress tonal ‘value’ with their synchronous harmonies. The brass and reed contrapuntal discussions convey brightness without reaching extremes. The horns stay in mid-register. The music is pre-disposed towards multiple choruses and thematic repetitions, although single melody lines evolve, as exemplified in “Opium” or “Skickin’ Away.” The playfulness of “One Man’s Machine,” where the trombone combines with voice modulation and electronics, establishes a defining moment for the record.

The bass provides a substantial role, not only as a lone rhythm section, but also as a precise, constant pizzicato back-up behind the ever-changing colors of the horns. Without doubt, the bass determines the main lines on which the horns can often focus and from which they can spring. The deep arco drone supports the syncopated horns in “Luminata No. 257.” An arco and slow pizzicato mix map the contour underlying the closing horn choruses of “Life of A Cipher.” The bass excels in its solo capacity heard in several healthy pizzicato interludes in “Orion Rising.” A clear, open walking line prevails only once in “Skickin’ Away.”

Dancing on Thin Ice escapes being heavy, concept-riveted music. Succinct, nearly poetic, explanations of the songs are printed in the liner notes between the numbering of the track listings. The fifty-eight second execution of shifting multi-note phrases in “Jugs March In” encapsulates the trio’s essence.