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Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction (Out of Your Head)

A review of the debut album for the bassist-led quintet

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Nick Dunston, Atlantic Extraction
The cover of Atlantic Extraction by Nick Dunston

Nick Dunston didn’t have a particular ensemble sound in his head when he built his new quintet last year. He just hoped a handful of committed improvisers would naturally morph into a working band, sharing their savvy and collectively shaping a music that deep-sixed the constraints of idiom. Guess what? Dude’s dream came true. Atlantic Extraction’s debut is an engaging date that offers unique vista after unique vista, coming on like a suite regardless of how far-flung any of its individual elements seem to be. 

The young bassist, who has swooped onto the New York jazz scene with surprising velocity in the last two years, has myriad interests. So the terrain of this program’s 16 tracks is in constant flux; his embrace of modern classical and abstract improv lingos informs many of the vignettes. A guitar/flute/drums/violin/bass outfit has innumerable textures to investigate, and Team Dunston’s curiosity gets the green light at every turn. Plus, those experimental gambits are bolstered by several arrangement insights. 

That means there are solo tracks as well as passages by pared-down versions of the group. Luminous crescendos that exude a natural radiance. Poetic reveries that thrill with their commitment to pith. Frenzied drama that manages to exude grace. Simple taps and gurgles that conjure the natural world. “String Solo No. 2” actually works as a percussion piece, with Tal Yahalom tapping a parade of feels from his guitar. One section of “Contraband Peanut Butter” finds Ledah Finck’s violin drone stabilizing a swirl of hubbub just aching to boil over. Dunston has a way with suspense, and his design game is strong. At some points, it’s as if Air were interpreting Anthony Davis’ I’ve Known Rivers or Leroy Jenkins’ Legend of Ai Glatson. Or both at once.

The bassist has worked with Tyshawn Sorey, Dave Douglas, and Amirtha Kidambi. A recent video portrait for NYC’s Roulette performance space found him touting influences including Bartók and August Wilson. He’s said his perspective is informed by the AACM and BAG, and “S.S. Nemesis” features a momentary “Oh Susanna” reference. Seems this broad-reaching testament to inclusion is also a refutation of formulaic expectations. Long story short: Dunston has made the debut of 2019, and it’s likely that its beauty will resonate for much longer than that.


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Jim Macnie

Jim Macnie is a music writer who contributes to DownBeat and blogs at Lament For a Straight Line. He’s been working in digital media since since 2000, initially as’s Managing Editor and, currently, as a Senior Producer and Editor at Vevo. He enjoys Little Jimmie Dickens, Big Joe Turner and Medium Medium.