David Gilmore: Ritualism (2001)
Exciting times are upon us, not only here at allaboutjazz but in the broader marketplace, as jazz consumers. An increasing number of vital musicians, heretofore best known as relatively high profile "idemen" who, in fact, by those who know their work, are more akin to equal contributors to the projects to which they have chosen to dedicate their prodigious talents, have finally grown tired of the status quo to which they have seemingly been assigned. What can be looked upon as an opportune state of affairs has dovetailed, in arenas as disparate as the world of home studios, the costs of cdr media, the proliferation of cd burners, file sharing, fees paid for gigs, or the perceived marketability and profitability of certain categories of music by large corporations, to make the independent release of music the most attractive option, one that may be (aghast) actually be elected in favor of the traditional label deal. What goes hand in hand with this "outer" combination of circumstance, of course , is the inner realization, which only comes with maturity as a musician, composer and improviser, that this assignation of the "sideman" role is on some level, a resignation, however strong the voices of the individuals in the group or on the date. And so it is that I have come to have a stunning series of such recording cross my desk and my deck in Y2k, the latest being this current offering by a "new face" who's been a "sideman," but certainly not off to the side, on over 40 recordings to date.
David has eschewed the standard way of doing things for awhile. Hailing from Cambridge, Massachusetts, he did not attend Berklee, opting instead for private study with local guitar gurus John Baboian and Randy Roos and later honing his skills at NYU's music department, graduating instead into another university, the fledgling, at that time, Steve Coleman's M-Base Collective. In 1989 he toured with drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, joined clarinetist Don Byron's quintet, and also became a member of the group Lost Tribe, co-producing their first two recordings for the hip High Street subsidiary of the Windham Hill label. Lost Tribe was a slammingly funkier evolution of Coleman's thing, featuring the two- headed lead guitar beast of Gilmore and Adam Rogers. Sadly, the band disbanded after accomplishing the all-too- achievable tasks of breaking new ground while breaking no sales records. From the early 1990s onward, Gilmore served in some higher profile situations, recording and performing with Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, Sam Rivers, Muhal Richard Abrams and Trilok Gurtu, who tapped David for his not-so-subtly M-Base influenced Crazy Saints. He can be found most recently on stellar recordings by Christian McBride, Uri Caine, Don Byron, and Chris Minh Doky. He was also there contributing his playing and compositional skills to a then-lesser -known Ms. Cassandra Wilson. Now 36, the time for this debut recording as a leader is most definitely upon us.
Ritualism features a core unit of George Colligan on piano and keyboards, Brad Jones on acoustic bass, and Rodney Holmes on drums, with great guest turns by Ravi Coltrane on tenor & soprano sax, former Lost Tribe band mate Dave Binney on alto, and Coleman alum Ralph Alessi on trumpet, among others. Those who know David's handiwork can think of it as a natural step in his evolution as one of Coleman's "Elements," with a nice bit of added acoustic flavor on guitar and all acoustic bass. For those coming at it from a reference point of popular music, I'm getting a nice wash of the same feelings, coming from a jazzier place, that I get when I listen to some of the new "bohemian" or "organic" hip-hop out there, like Erkyah, D'Angelo, or the Roots. This stuff grooves that strong, even while consistently incorporating odd meters, which, leads me to conclude that Mr. G has learned well from his experiences/apprentices. I recently heard Matt Garrison, fellow Coleman alum, at a recent clinic/performance sum up Coleman's M-Base methodologies with his instructional mantra, sometimes delivered effusively at rehearsals:"Don't Count!Dance!" The subtle difference for the listener here is that when listening to Coleman's music, I would think that the mantra would have to be silently invoked to stay with the groove at times. When listening to Gilmore's, it won't. No other cd with as many odd meters appears in our Funk/Groove review archive, but after minimal rumination, and a whole lotta moving and shaking,we decided it's the "best" category for it.
Ok, we have reached the point in the narrative where it becomes time to be clear about the profundity of the subject of the review. In this last few weeks of American uncertainty, where basic processes such as balloting and proper chad-punching technique have been called into question, leaving a nation in doubt, it just "would not be prudent at this time" to understate. What is happening on this recording in terms of all that is rhythmic is astounding. The heads and themes on these tunes, like "Ritualism," "Paradigm Shift" and "Event Horizon" are hypnotically cyclic yet grooving. The tunes are made up of intricate, compound, multi-layered pieces that construct themes that build while building interest; of odd-meters that somehow stack up to build propulsive, yet danceably throbbing rhythms. While trying to get a bit technical here, I found myself counting time on many of the songs, in hopes of somehow conveying their simultaneously intense musicianship and musicality. I confess, the counting became hard for me, merely a content-providing critic, not someone who has so skillfully played and lived inside of these kinds of grooves for years. I think the following example of what I said to myself sums up the revelation that came after throwing up my hands in resignation. "Hey, I think all of "Ritualism" is in five, but does it really matter if its grooving so goddamned hard?" I'm sure the answer Dave (and mentor Coleman, for that matter) would be looking for is "Absolutely not!" So, in very serious way, this disc has a "new groove," a new funk- what I'd say is a more organic, analog(ue) if you will, M-Base derived sound. A critic might fall into the trap of saying its cerebral; well, the grooves may be achieved through cerebral means but the music is by no means high-brow. Maybe Steve would say "it's not as challenging as it could be," but this subtle distinction should make all the difference when considering the size of the fanbase to which this recording has the potential to appeal. I think it should enable this one to reach not only fans of vital M-base rhythmic stylings, or flat-out great guitar playing, but a bit more broadly into the groove jazz, or jamband jazz crowd. I, for one, would like to find out how fans of say, MMW or Charlie Hunter, would respond to this music and these grooves.
Holding all of this rhythm together of course, must be some kind of drummer, in this case coming in the persons of Rodney Holmes and Bruce Cox (who plays equally smokingly on four of the discs eleven cuts). Rodney's better known, having played with Byron and the Breckers and toured of late with jamband favorite Steve Kimock and one Mr. Santana. Bruce, on the other hand, has merely held down the skins for the likes of David Murray, Ted Curson, and deep funk hornmen Fred Wesley and Karl Denson, as well as toured with (gulp) Sonny Rollins and Sun Ra's Arkestra. I was curious to know if either Rodney or Bruce had played with Coleman, so I checked. Neither is listed on the M-base website as an "official" M-Base "participant" but they're certainly participating here in everything that it's about when it comes to the groove. Yes, Rodney and Bruce eat up odd-meters for breakfast, lunch an dinner on this one. Multiple listens would provide a valuable clinic for a young drummer entitled something like "How to Stealth Odd Meters while Keeping Heads Bobbing."
"Ritualism" starts the proceedings with a primer on what Gilmore is all about, a perfect example of a cut that should serve the dual purpose as a title to a recording . A ten-note figure on the low end of the guitar starts off, becoming doubled to function as the bass-line. Ravi Coltrane, who has now developed into a full-blown superb tenor/sopranoman (I will spare obvious comparisons, only to say I am a bit surprised the media hasn't played Ravi up in a much bigger way on this count), doubles David to state the theme. As the guitar melody is stated in single notes, using an unadorned hollowbody-type tone, I am reminded of the rhythm work of African guitar masters such as Ray Phiri, while David is dropping in propulsive yet subtle rhythmic accents everywhere. Short solo bursts are taken by Coltrane and Gilmore, with unison themes restated, after which more formal 16 bar sections (ok, its actually 11:8 - I think! ) of weaving, modern bop are exchanged. Gilmore's tone remains clean and relatively unsustained, with a brisk attack, as it does for most of the record. Even David's long bop lines display an ingenuity of rhythmic variety and emphasis, coupled with harmonic adventurousness, that simply will not be found in many other guitarists' repertoires. Now, if you do end up picking this one up, allow me to make a suggestion. As "Ritualism" ends, do not go on to the next tune. Listen to this one again, but point your ear towards the drumming first and foremost and listen to how it becomes relentlessly more complex, while the groove does not.
Bring out the incense and candles for "Kaizen" because Dave is breaking out the steel-string acoustic and Bruce has grabbed the brushes . Over a cleverly stuttering chord vamp, Binney and Coltrane give us dual sax attack for the head with Binney breaking out on alto for a solo featuring some extremely fleet lines. And what a nicely voiced acoustic solo by David over what becomes a very swinging rhythm track. I suspect "Paradigm Shift" gets its title from the shifting emphasis on the rhythmic note groupings in the tune's head. Here, we feel the contribution of Brad Jones, who forcefully and fleetly doubles the head while manhandling his acoustic bass. Rodney comes out absolutely smoking here, spraying hits all over the kit, utterly slaying the head of this tune. This one features a long solo turn for David to spin those long, bop lines; in effect, through the release of the cd independently, an opportunity he wound up having to give himself. I, for one, am most grateful, as I am for the room Colligan gets to cut loose on Rhodes. I must admit I was not familiar with Colligan before receiving this recording. I will make it a point to become so, especially after a cursory listen reveals expert versatility, while cursory investigation reveals he has recorded, as a leader, with players of such caliber as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Drew Gress and Mark Turner, and is a member of Cassandra Wilson's touring unit.
"Event Horizon" is a (Lag)gas(se), definitely "kicking it up a notch"- featuring an odd meter head over a three chord vamp prefacing a totally swinging4:4!solo section featuring the session's fleetest fretwork, spiced with clean triadic chordwork, followed up by Colligan's ample turn on acoustic piano and a breakdown of the vamp that turns into a short, frenetically musical Rodney Holmes feature. "Confluence" shows us what David can do with nylon strings, a vocal tune featuring an extremely challenging, dissonant-sounding unison theme with Imani Uzuri and a lyrical solo section played over a jazz-waltz tempo that somehow evolves out of and resolves back into the vocal sections. The lyrics speak of confluences out of which beginnings arise, with the music providing intensification to this theme. "Off Minor" provides the full horn section a chance to shine, both as in the ensemble work, emboldened by David's deft arranging skills (he wrote and arranged this entire set), and for solos, which are also taken on guitar and bass. "Reality Check" is an up-tempo burner featuring a grittier guitar tone, a helical head, and Colligan's finest turn (here on piano), while "the Wanderer" changes it up with an emotive ballad providing a starker framework for Gilmore to scatter his reticulated solo lines and for Coltrane to display his contemporary soprano style. "Elementary" is modern-day odd-time hard bop, featuring much parrying and thrusting between Coltrane and Binney and an exciting blues-rock trading of eights between Gilmore and Colligan ( this time on organ). "Musical Revolutions" features poet Sharrif Simmons slamming some old school spoken word over a bed of steel string and a syncopated, vigorously plucked bass-line and-its hard to put it in words-just more vehemently intense Rodney.
There's lots more. Full "independent" advantage is taken, filling the release to capacity ,or, in other words, giving you 72 minutes of - I can't think of a better way to say it - seriously badass musicianship of the highest New York order. That's a compliment ..a big one. The full indie package is here as well - Dave produced this joint, it's perfectly mixed, with cool artwork, nice photography of the session and the added bonus of outstanding, and (as usual) illuminating liner notes supplied by perennial Village Voice contributor and Black Rock Coalition visionary Greg Tate. Even Dave's thank you to his "biggest inspiration" hit me right where I live, but you can check that for yourself. If I get the oppurtunity to do a year-end thing , this'll be in my top ten for sure (Actually, it's in my top two! ).
Track Listing: Ritualism; Kaizen; Paradigm Shift; Event Horizon; Confluence; Off Minor; Reality Check; The Wanderer; Elementary; Musical Revolutions; Uncertainty Principle.
Personnel: David Gilmore: electric and acoustic guitars, producer; George Colligan: piano and keyboards; Brad Jones: acoustic bass; Rodney Holmes: drums. Guests: Ravi Coltrane; tenor and soprano saxophones; David Binney: alto saxophone; Bruce Cox: drums; Imani Uzuri: vocals; Sharrif Simmons: spoken word; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Daniel Moreno: percussion.
Record Label: Self Produced