Dan Weiss on David Binney's Criss Cross Recordings
“ His drumming can be sparse, brutally direct, or breathtakingly complex. ”
Dan Weiss's drumming makes an indispensable contribution to a pair of recent recordings by alto saxophonist David Binney, Bastion of Sanity (2005) and Cities and Desire (2006), both on the Criss Cross Jazz imprint. Binney's idiosyncratic compositions draw from a variety of jazz and popular music styles. The topography of his music often includes the slow, incremental building up of pressure or wildly fluctuating improvised movement that retains a stable core.
Possessing a strong, individualist bent, Weiss throws himself into Binney's variegated frameworks. Even as he's playing a head one way, Weiss often gives the impression of weighing several other options. His drumming can be sparse, brutally direct, or breathtakingly complex. Weiss possesses abundant technique, an uncommonly light touch, and sounds at ease in odd and mixed meters. He weaves an impressive array of beats into the fabric of the group's improvisations, immediately responds to every change in direction, and moves from a fury to a whisper in an instant.
Bastion of Sanity opens with Wayne Shorter's composition, "Lester Left Town, from Art Blakey's 1960 Blue Note recording, The Big Beat. The band takes the tune at a tempo that's considerably faster than Blakey's version. Although Weiss's drumming on the opening head includes some of the master's signature devices, like rim knocks, press rolls, and chocked cymbal crashes at the end of the tune's bridge, all in all he's lighter and more fluid. The neat metallic ping of his top cymbal stays in the forefront.
Binney's solo doesn't leave many holes for Weiss to fill so the drummer takes a parallel, complementary course by maintaining the steady ride cymbal beat, consistently accenting the snare, plus adding occasional stick shots and hits to the tom toms. He executes all of these things at a volume that leaves room for Thomas Morgan's vigorous walking bass line, and, most importantly, he never crowds or tries to dominate Binney. During pianist Jacob Sacks's turn, there are fleeting interludes in which the steady pulse is suspended and each instrument pulls in its own direction. During these moments Weiss slows down and speeds up the ride cymbal before abruptly snapping back into place.
In contrast to the stable opening of the track, the out head is boisterous and full of surprises. At one point Morgan stops walking and mimics Binney, briefly sending the whole band into free fall. Weiss does his part throughout by playing with less restraint, and executing long, busy, and somewhat obtrusive fills. His most galvanizing contribution occurs during a brief lull in the tune's bridge. Anticipating a climactic point of the melody, Weiss smacks the bass drum against the beat four times, and then immediately hits the snare and cymbal twice in unison.
Taken at a slow, ballad-like tempo, Binney's Plan is at once a constantly changing and beautifully restrained piece of music. For the first sixteen bars, Sacks and Morgan play in unison, mostly on beats one and three of each measure. Weiss taps out loosely knit variations of the standard jazz ride cymbal rhythm. At first they're barely audible. He also intermittently drums his fingers on the head of the snare in no particular pattern. A few pairs of hits to the bass drum foretell increased activity. When the hornsBinney and tenor saxophonist Chris Potterbegin to play a sparse, somber melody, Weiss's cymbal strokes get louder and more clearly defined. He starts adding snare accents and some strokes to the toms, becoming more assertive and inventive, keeping time and providing rhythmic counterpoint.
As the piece continues to evolve over the piano and bass pattern, Weiss plays an increasingly prominent role, finding his own zone somewhere between accompaniment and excessive activity. He cooks in a manner that doesn't override the band or shatter the reserved character of Binney's composition. When each of the horns starts to play variations of the song, the music gets somewhat louder and more intense, but ultimately the lid stays on. Weiss continues to improvise, becoming more and more expansive, executing somewhat brusque rhythms that serve as an ideal foil for Morgan's quietly twisted bass lines. For the last eight bars, the horns play an adaptation of the original melody at a low volume. Once again, Weiss's rhythms are subdued and barely audible.
Nearly ten minutes in length, the vigorous title track of Bastion of Sanity features a head by Binney in which he and Chris Potter often sound like a flock of honking geese. Weiss plays all manner of rhythms, textures, and dynamic levels throughout two extended saxophone solos before taking his own protracted turn.