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Michael Eaton: Dialogical (Destiny)

A review of the saxophonist's second album

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Michael Eaton, Dialogical
The cover of Dialogical by Michael Eaton

“Serious play” may be a cliché by now, but it exemplifies the spirit that dances through this set.  Apropos to the title, the emphasis is on mutuality: unison melody lines dissolving into contrapuntal interplay (both improvised and otherwise); shifting time signatures (often juxtaposed against one another); abrupt alterations in voicing. The dialectic between group cohesion and individual expression results in an appropriately paradoxical tension between thematic continuity and fluidity. 

At times, an additional creative tension—between harmony and dissonance—makes itself felt. “Thanatos and Eros” starts with a dialogue between Cheryl Pyle’s flute and Eaton’s soprano sax, and their interplay—sometimes easy and free-flowing, sometimes at apparent cross-purposes—reflects the tautness implied by the title (the forces of death and renewal, locked in eternal embrace). After a brief interlude, the rest of the ensemble weighs in with a characteristically shape-shifting, rhythmically variegated theme, featuring an undulating, exploratory piano statement from Brad Whiteley and some lithe, full-bodied sax work from Eaton. (“Machinic Eros,” a brief sax-flute duet, sounds almost like a reimagining of the “Thanatos and Eros” intro, but this time the two voices resolve themselves into a rich, harmonious blend.)  

“I and Thou,” among the most ambitious offerings here, begins with a prayerful gimbri solo from Daniel Ori, segues into an Eastern-tinged ensemble dance, and then dissolves into interludes of meditative quietude, during which guest saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Sean Sonderegger weigh in with solos that alternate between melodiousness and overtone-toughened, free-form aggression. The play gets a little darker on the four-part “Temporalities,” which concludes the set—astringent harmonic clashes, blaring tones, claustrophobically circular repetitions, an overall feel of urgency impelled by a thrusting militance—an unsettling but effective meld of caprice, iconoclasm, and dread.

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.