Between Shadow and Space is an aptly named release from trombonist and computer manipulator Michael Dessen’s trio, which creates oblique and evasive soundscapes that can’t be easily categorized. As Dessen writes in the album’s liner notes, “the past half century has produced a staggering array of improvisational music…my music draws energy from overlapping musical communities and histories.”
Over the course of this record’s duration, the music has points of reference such as European musique concrete as well as languages heard among the AACM and M-Base movements; not to mention the unique Warp Records brand of electronica represented by artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre. These are just several strategies that the Dessen Trio employs as they move outside the traditional jazz lineage, while retaining a sense of rhythmic momentum that may well fit under a more expansive definition of swing.
With bassist Christopher Tordini and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey on board, the band is capable of switching it up from skittering, broken-up densities of notes (“Duo Improvisation”) to their own brand of prickly funk (“Anthesis”). Perhaps inspired by George Lewis’ pioneering interface of trombone and electronics to frame improvisation as a method of intellectual inquiry, the group utilizes synthesized textures and squiggly percussion to create moody, mysterious sound collages like “Chocolate Geometry” and “Granulorum.”
There seems to be a minimal amount of melodic content strewn across the album, but the slack is picked up by extraneous computer-generated effects and bursts of athletic, brainy virtuosity. Among the more accessible tracks is “Restless Years,” established by Tordini’s groove-heavy yet angular bass ostinato, from which Sorey extrapolates a wealth of fractured ideas.
Overall, this is gestural music, with its own obscured inner logic and drama. The closing “Water Seeks,” dedicated to the passing of Alice Coltrane, is a sort of space-age tone poem; a shimmering, insect-like swarm of cymbals, bowed bass, muted trombone and the metallic drone of electronics. It leaves a ghostly trail of question marks as the album ends.
Personnel: Michael Dessen: trombone (1-7), computer (2-4, 6, 7); Christopher Tordini: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: percussion.