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Devin Gray: Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan)

Review of the drummer/composer's sixth album as a leader

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Cover of Devin Gray album Dirigo Rataplan II
Cover of Devin Gray album Dirigo Rataplan II

Who says creative improvisation is for grownups only? Devin Gray’s Dirigo Rataplan I was party improvisation suitable for 4H Clubs, county fairs, and dancing toddlers. Dirigo Rataplan II dials back the merriment, but not the joy of improvising over compelling themes.

Again accompanied by tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou, and bassist Michael Formanek, Gray the drummer rolls his tubs like a mad brew of equal parts Han Bennink and Ed Blackwell. Gray the composer, meanwhile, twines serious themes with jubilant improvisations. No matter the mood or groove, there’s a lightness, a sense of quiet celebration in every tune. Opener “Congruently” sounds like a maze conceived between 4 and 5 a.m., its gaiety serving a knotty swing pulse. “Rollin’ Thru Town” is demure by comparison, Gray dropping dry cogitations to Eskelin and Ballou’s crisscrossing solos.

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