Brad Dutz: When Manatees Attack

It’s rare that I listen to a record that, from the first note, grabs and holds me. This one does. Dutz is an L.A. session cat who plays free-jazz on the side-only he doesn’t play it like it’s a sideline, but like it’s the reason he gets up in the morning. This fancifully titled album has Dutz composing for an ensemble consisting of Paul Sherman on oboe and English horn; James Sullivan on bass clarinet and G clarinet; Rachel Arnold on cello and the leader on all manner of percussion…everything, it seems, except drum kit. Dutz writes highly contrapuntal music that relies on modern classical techniques of tonal, rhythmic and formal organization. The music is generally light of texture. It has the air of “chamber” music without the stuffiness such a label might imply. The musicians play with precision but let the music breathe naturally. It’s not as obsessively tight as classical music, but has that ineffable manner of informality that the best jazz seems to always have. The solos are creative, the compositions consistently fine, and Dutz’s colorful percussion always spot-on. It’s more classical than jazz, but more importantly, it’s much on the positive side of Duke’s “good music/bad music” divide.