The unusual instrumentation of the new album from drummer Dan Weiss brings to mind Smokestack, Andrew Hill’s 1966 Blue Note classic, as both recordings employ a drums/piano/two-basses lineup, but Weiss didn’t intend the comparison. For him, this was simply an outgrowth of the trio with bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Jacob Sacks that he showcased on the 2006 recording Now Yes When and 2010’s Timshel. Over the years Eivind Opsvik has often subbed for Morgan, and Weiss began writing music for an ensemble with both bassists.
This concept may seem a long distance from Weiss’ other recent projects, such as the heavy metal thrust of Starebaby, or the South Asian tilt of his sideman work with Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo Pak Coalition, yet elements of both and many other influences factor into the music. On the title track, an elegantly structured piece, the rhythms change subtly in a nod to composer Morton Feldman. “Jamerson” pays homage to the great Motown bassist James Jamerson. “Rock and Heat” is a highlight for the interaction of Morgan and Opsvik. Afro-Cuban rhythms highlight “Please Don’t Leave,” and metallic thump is present in “Bonham,” a tribute to one of Weiss’ cornerstone influences, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Weiss’ decades-long study of the tabla and its textures underpin all of the music.
Whether led by pianists or drummers—Chad Taylor’s superb Circle Down comes to mind—the dynamic of the piano/bass/drums trio has changed in the past 15-20 years, with tension building from changing levels of ensemble unity. Here Weiss, best known for bold statements, opts for nuanced movements and a slightly refracted grace that makes the ensemble distinctive. A Utica box is a 19th-century form of torture, but this Utica Box makes an ideal form of 21st-century contemplation.
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