A traditionalist with respect for the avant-garde, or an avant-garde acolyte with respect for tradition? Dave Burrell would appear to have a foot in both camps. On Momentum the pianist is supported and augmented by the outstanding new rhythm section of bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Guillermo E. Brown. The music manages to be quirky yet intense, harmonius and dissonant in turn, fractured yet swingingand ultimately highly rewarding.
On the opening "Downfall" Burrell offers a simple, catchy piano riff against which Brown manufactures fascinating rhythms, threatening to tear free of the leash but never quite doing so. On the uneasy, brooding "Broken Promise" and "Fade to Black," with its deep, bowed bass intro, Burrell demonstrates the art of restraint, his sparse, almost exclusively right-handed work endowing an almost elegiac feel to the latter number. Here and throughout the album, Burrell is a servant to the tune and not the other way round.
"4:30 to Atlanta" highlights Brown's dynamic innovations in an extended drum solo full of surprises; then Burrell and Formanek lift the tune and make it swing. "Cool Reception" is a lush, slow-burning blues where Burrell and Formanek trade solos, alternating as leader and accompanist so seamlessly that their roles are beautifully blurred. This song has the quality of beauty and sadness found in Billie Holiday's best work.
The closer is a reworking of "Coup D'Etat," previously recorded on the critically acclaimed Expansion (High Two, 2004). Two albums, two "Coup D'Etat"s... is it possible that Burrell is trying to say something? This latest version is slower paced than its recent progenitor. Burrell's chord sequences here are Ellington-like and Formanek's rich, warm-toned bass lends the piece elegance.
Momentum is a high point in Dave Burrell's forty-year career. Much of the album's success is down to the energy and creativity of his fellow musicians, Formanek and Brown, who contribute enormously to this collective jewel, which is eccentric yet straight-ahead, abstract yet tuneful, simple yet sophisticated. Wherever he is resting, Thelonius Monk is surely smiling to himself.
Personnel: Dave Burrell: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Guillermo E. Brown: drums.