How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Bassist Chris Dahlgren, an important voice on the New York downtown avant-garde scene, has exhibited a flair for unusual ensemble configurations on his previous releases. On Best Intentions, his third outing as a leader, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi’s grooves and timbres give the music a rather exotic flavor; a conventional drum set would not have done the trick. Dahlgren’s dual-alto frontline, comprised of Rob Brown and Peter Epstein, bears a passing resemblance to the Matt Wilson Quartet. Listeners unfamiliar with the individual styles of Brown and Epstein will have a hard time telling the two saxophonists apart.
"The Gadfly" opens the album with an upbeat, harmonized melody set against dramatic percussion that sounds oddly similar to that heard on Björk’s "Human Behavior." The following two tracks seem to join the first as a kind a mini-suite which grows progressively darker in mood. The slower, odd-metered bass lines of "The Wanderers" and "Triptych #2" recall Dave Holland, while "The Angels of Hartwell," a quasi-epic involving a succession of time feels and intense crescendos, culminates in a reggae groove reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt’s "Have a Heart." An additional, uncredited instrument — perhaps a melodica — can be heard during this track. "Matson," the finale, is a plaintive sax melody juxtaposed with turbulent bowed bass and busy percussion, ending with an unusually gradual fadeout.
Dahlgren’s music is pathbreaking yet accessible, dissonant yet melodically rich. Although Best Intentions has its share of alto screeching and wailing, it is far from a typical downtown noise record. Noise there is, but it’s employed sparingly as an emotional effect; it’s not the whole show. And throughout, there’s a familiar and even comforting sense of structure, even as Dahlgren and company conjure strange, new worlds.
Tracks: 1. The Gadfly 2. The Hypnotist 3. The Wanderers 4. Fourth Avenue Passacaglia 5. Triptych #2 6. The Angels of Hartwell 7. Matson.
Rob Brown, alto saxophone; Chris Dahlgren, double bass; Peter Epstein, alto and soprano saxophones; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion.