Plunge: Dancing on Thin Ice (2009)
There is a plangorous significance to Dancing on Thin Ice. Built on the symbolic thin ice of New Orleans' ecology, it depicts a city that has bounced back from Katrina but only just. It also tells a broader allegorical tale about the planet's teeter-tottering cultural ecologyhence the cover silhouettes of a mastodon and hammerhead shark, representing the strength of all that lives on earth and in the depths of the ocean, and all that makes jazz strong, pliant and enduring. And Plunge makes all of this drama play out in the proverbial birthplace of jazz.
Dancing on Thin Ice has a nervous muscularity. The trombone of Mark McGrain, saxophones of Tim Green and acoustic bass of James Singleton rub uncommon and mighty shoulders, embracing the tonal spectrum and the most challenging timbre of each other's instruments with inspired abandon. McGrain and Singleton ebb and flow around the seemingly ancient wisdom of Green, whose broad, dry and avuncular tone rises like the wing of a giant bird looping on a powerful thermal. His magnetic, bluesy lines clearly inspire McGrain, who makes his trombone speak, and Singleton, who harks back to the days of Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingusplayers who knew how to caress and beat the daylights out of a string of dried camel gut.
Throughout the record, an aura of dim, flickering gaslights gives way to the violent buzz of blinding neon as the music rides the edge of an urban blockbuster of power. The music is painterly in an abstract sort of way, wildly suggestive and always in motion. And despite the electronics and otherworldly appendages, it is always mystical while still being down-to-earth bluesy and dancing.
Plunge has the pulse of the street, the dives, the coffee houses and the hard road of paying one's dues. "Friday Night at the Top" is a growling celebration of making a few bucks at a jazz joint. "Orion Rising" follows the inebriated ruminations of a night sky with intertwining saxophone and trombone. "One Man's Machine" is a vibrant charge forward, mixing the human speech-like smears and growls of the trombone with a wired electronic environment. "Jugs March In" sings the elegiac dirge of a street marching band, and "Praise Singer" paints the spiritual gathering of a Holy Rolling revival.
Dancing on Thin Ice boasts a certain brazen attitude to the end. It's all the stronger because Plunge is out to prove that the cradle of jazz civilization is still swinging.
Track Listing: Friday Night at the Top; Life of a Cipher; Orion Rising; Luminata No. 257; One Man's Machine; Opium; Dancing on Thin Ice; Missing Mozambique; Jugs March In; The Praise Singer; Skickin' Away.
Personnel: Mark McGrain: trombone; Tim Green: saxophones; James Singleton: double-bass.