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Bright Dog Red: In Vivo (Ropeadope)

A review of the avant-garde jazz group's live album recorded at the ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn

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Bright Dog Red: In Vivo
The cover of In Vivo by Bright Dog Red

Improvising collective Bright Dog Red would probably snag top honors as best kept secret in the avant-jazz underground, if such an accolade were actually bestowed. The brainchild of intrepid drummer Joe Pignato, reinforced by a rotating cast of malleable players performing at the tops of their respective games, BDR has turned up nothing but aces over a rollicking three-album stretch on the Ropeadope label, sublimely marrying jazz with hip-hop, funk, and electronic music.

Pignato’s modus operandi is full-on free improvisation; no charts, set lists, or riffs to fall back on. Few ensembles can pull off spur-of-the-moment dynamics without descending into mayhem, but BDR’s 2020 double album Somethin’ Comes Along—part 1980s-era Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, part Lounge Lizards, part A Tribe Called Quest—showed the way.

On In Vivo, recorded live at the Brooklyn jazz venue ShapeShifter Lab, Pignato and his colleagues (Eric Person: soprano and alto saxophones, flute; Tyreek Jackson: guitar; Anthony Berman: acoustic bass; Cody Davies: sounds; and Matt Coonan: poetry, freestyling) go right for the gusto. There’s very little buildup in BDR’s sound-worlds—they quickly latch onto a deep, otherworldly groove with ease, as on the head-spinning opening track “To Be Born Into,” and run away with it. In Vivo beams with celebratory vibes. The hard funk action of “We Ain’t Gotta” is a hands-in-the-air good time, as Coonan jubilantly raps, “Thank God/We ain’t gotta do another four years of that” in a dig at the 45th president.

The secret of the album’s success lies behind the scenes. Pignato not only masterfully locks in on pulsating rhythms, but he’s also a skilled editor. The bandleader took the continuous, fully improvised live set and spliced sections into individual tunes. Result: six pieces that seemingly melt into each other, a downright organic experience that whisks the listener smack dab into the live show. In Vivo shows Bright Dog Red as the consummate genre-juggling party band.