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 and 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 Yalamon 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 was 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 Bartok and August Wilson. He’s said his perspective is informed by the AACM and BAG, and “SS 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 the year, and it’s likely the beauty of its power will resonate for much longer than that.
Out Of Your Head
Nick Dunston BandCamp
The first ECM title I bought was either Marion Brown’s Afternoon Of a Georgia Faun or Corea/Holland/Altschul’s A.R.C. Can’t really remember. But I do remember once having to put Bobo Stentson’s Underwear back in the racks because I didn’t have enough money. Maybe because I was getting that Bailey/Holland duet album. Favorite early titles through the decades are many, but definitely Facing You, The Colours of Chloë, Conference of the Birds, Illusion Suite, Bremen/Lausanne, Conception Vessel, The Jewel in the Lotus, Eon, Gnu High, Silent Feet, and Emerald Tears were big in Macnieville. I recall David Breskin pointing to Jarrett’s Sun Bear box and saying “I’ll take it” when I was working in a Providence record store. Same place same time: when Carla Bley’s Watt titles got an ECM ride. Did that start with Social Studies? Another biggie for me. Things took off when Manfred tapped the outcats for Nice Guys and Divine Love and Special Edition and Contrasts and Bitter Funeral Beer. Here’s a thank you to him for bringing the world Meredith Monk. The first album I reviewed for Musician mag was Frisell’s Rambler. I just found my Boston Globe review of The Third Decade in the basement last summer. And these days keeping in touch with Edition of Contemporary Music has led lots of listeners back to New York with Snakeoil and Larry Grenadier and Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille and Mike Formanek and Chris Potter and Aaron Parks. Miles to go, I bet. Here are 50 pieces I always return to.
(put the spotify crossfade on 10 seconds for this list)
And RIP to Jan Erik Kongshaug, master engineer and co-architect of ECM’s sonic personality.