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Dan Weiss’ Starebaby: Natural Selection (Pi)

A review of the second album from the drummer-led metal-leaning avant-garde outfit

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Dan Weiss' Starebaby: Natural Selection
The cover of Natural Selection by Dan Weiss’ Starebaby

Don’t let the title fool you. The second album from Starebaby—Dan Weiss’ malleable, metal-leaning avant-garde outfit—takes more cues from David Lynch than Charles Darwin. Feeding off the ominous and surreal notions embedded in the 2017 Twin Peaks return, this drummer/composer works his magic by bending time, texture, and form to his will. He creates a series of tulpas: new compositions mystically aligned to material from Starebaby’s eponymous debut.

An awareness of antecedents proves illuminating, but understanding all the connections—the mood-shifting arcs that bind this collection’s “Episode 18” with the previous album’s “Episode 8,” for example—isn’t a prerequisite for listening. In fact, entering these spaces without any preconceptions enriches the act(s) of discovery. Complex enough to keep anybody guessing and wise enough to yield to the moment, this music is full of wicked surprises. 

One might say that “The Long Diagonal” deals in sound askew—placing dizzying riffs, minimalistic maxims, and off-kilter alarms in close contact—or note how “A Taste of a Memory” uses chimerical quietude as a prologue to danger. But calling out a few musical attributes or descriptors for any of these pieces seems pointlessly reductive, short-changing their might-and-flight majesty. Weiss, who calls wonders into existence with some help from fearsomely fluid pianists (and synth wizards) Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn, razor-sharp guitar hero Ben Monder, and thrumming electric bass heavy Trevor Dunn, manages to artfully embody motion without ever missing a beat. That, in truth, says it all.

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Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.