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Django Bates: Spring is Here (Shall We Dance?)

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It’s tempting to call the music of Django Bates postmodern, as the keyboardist/composer/bandleader uses multifaceted forms, whimsy and shifting allusions to notable musical genres and seemingly unrelated song structures. But that’s just another way of saying that Django Bates is making complicated sounds that oftentimes defy categorization and remain decidedly non-commercial. His music is certainly cutting-edge but not at all freeform and rarely improvisational.

On his latest CD, the incredibly accomplished Bates employs the sprawling Danish group StoRMChaser to showcase some of his finer commissioned works and other original pieces. The human voice figures prominently here, and singers Josefine Lindstrand and Elena Setién Yeregui help make Bates’ tribute to the spring season an uplifting and tuneful experience. The band is quite big but always well disciplined, dealing with intricate time signatures, multilayered harmonies and complex instrumental charts. Things move quickly too, and there are plenty of impressive musical passages sandwiched between the vocal discourse, curious in-jokes, drifting textures and savvy rhythmic interludes. Jazzy in sensibility and adventurous in all ways, the horn and reed sections handle everything that Bates throws at them, making this a recording to admire as much as enjoy.

A cerebral bandleader who writes to the strengths of his excellent musicians, Bates is striving to create something new and different, and to that end he succeeds. The compositions are occasionally too dense to really swing, but that’s not the point. An acquired taste to be sure, the postmodern universe of Django Bates continues to expand, evolve and entertain, impressively.