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Whit Dickey: Big Top

In his liner notes Dickey explains that he’s recently discovered that his playing is a “dance counterpoint to the center-melody” and, indeed, his frenetic performances do interact invigoratingly with the tough melodic content set forth by guitarist Joe Morris and reedist Rob Brown. Compared with drummer Gerald Cleaver’s work in the Morris group, Dickey sounds downright abstract here, but his meticulous deconstructions propel the music forcefully. He and bassist Chris Lightcap reveal a scalding, fast-paced interactivity on the Ornette-ish title cut underneath the frontline, but they’re equally effective together on a lovely treatment of Eric Dolphy’s “The Prophet.” With Brown’s alto saxophone imbued with melancholia, his upper register peregrinations full of piercing sobs, and Morris peeling off skeins of tunefully cascading notes, the rhythm section caresses and prods things along with constant shape-shifting; in particular, Dickey’s gentle cymbal play is a marvel of coloristic and rhythmic variety. The group also delivers a blistering take on Monk’s “Skippy” and veers off into more abstract turf on “The Immortals,” where Morris makes his guitar sound like everything but what it is.

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